Broadening the Lens: Menstrual Challenges in Rural Communities

 Image Source :  Photojournalist  August Nyson  

Image SourcePhotojournalist August Nyson 

Period poverty—the struggle to access and afford feminine hygiene products—weaves throughout the landscape, affecting millions of women from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and geographic locations. While this daunting plight has similar effects on those impacted (health risks, school absenteeism, missed work, etc.), the barriers that create period poverty may vary. This requires us to mindfully adjust our lens when discussing and addressing issues of menstrual health and product accessibility so that we may shed light on a broader population, ensuring that no women are excluded in this quest for menstrual equity.

Product cost is undoubtedly one of the most pressing contributors to period poverty. With products costing over $70 per year, and no coverage for these products through government assistance programs like WIC, many women are faced with the choice between buying adequate menstrual hygiene supplies or other basic necessities such as food. Ultimately, women may choose to overuse or improvise makeshift products, which is not only unsanitary but can pose serious health risks (in addition to the impact on their confidence and self-esteem).

In addition to the high cost of feminine hygiene products, women in rural communities face unique challenges in terms of product accessibility. A recent study shared by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 54.4 million people (17.7 percent of the U.S. population) live in “low income, low access” areas. For rural communities, this means that the nearest supermarket is over 10 miles away.

This highlights another unique challenge faced by women in rural communities: access to reliable transportation. Rural communities have less resources for public transportation, so reliance on private vehicles (including gas and maintenance) is critical. Many women share a vehicle with their partners or other family members. If their periods arrive unexpectedly and they don’t have way to get to the nearest store, consider the position this puts them in.

With limited shopping options and less access to the reliable, consistently low prices offered by big-box stores, which are more heavily concentrated in suburban communities, people in rural communities often pay a higher price for feminine hygiene products. Further, for many who live in poverty and struggle to afford one month’s worth of supplies, the option to save money by buying in bulk is simply unfeasible.

So, after expanding our understanding of the ways period poverty affects women within rural areas, the next step is to consider and promote solutions. Powerful advocate Jennifer Weiss-Wolf says there are several ways to impact positive change:

  • Call your legislators to command removal of the tax on feminine hygiene products, and encourage expansion of government assistance programs to cover these supplies.

  • Participate in calls-to-action for public places (including schools and businesses) to provide these supplies.

  • Organize drives to raise awareness and funds.

Poverty is a vicious cycle that requires resources and advocacy to break. Research demonstrates that those living in poverty within rural communities faced particularly harsh detriments with the 2007-2009 recession and are still, a decade later, struggling to recover. Help lift women within these populations by lending your voice and energy to missions like ours at Be a Rose. Let no community be forgotten in our quest to empower women through menstrual equity!

By: Aanee Nichols

 

Bleeding While Competing: Athletes and Menstruation

 Image Source :    Creative Commons,  edited by Photojournalist  August Nyson

Image SourceCreative Commons, edited by Photojournalist August Nyson

In case you missed it: Last month, Mirai Nagasu became the first American female figure skater to land a triple axel at the Olympics. (You go, girl!) But this isn’t the only reason we here at Be a Rose think she’s awesome. Mirai boldy embraced the topic of menstruation, telling Cosmopolitan that menstruating while competing is “really not that big of a deal.” She also mentioned issues addressed in our January blog post: exercise helps alleviate menstrual cramps. We love how Mirai discusses menstruation like a totally normal, unembarrassing thing - which it is!

The interview got us pondering if and how menstruation impacts athletes like her - and, alternately, if athleticism impacts menstrual cycles. Since periods and their symptoms are often framed as barriers to physical activity, one might expect competitive athletes to alter their menstrual cycles with contraceptives more than people who are recreationally active. However, according to one study, that turns out to not be the case; competitive athletes are no more likely to use oral contraceptives to manipulate their periods than women who exercise for fun.

Though menstruation appears to have little impact on athleticism, the same cannot be said of intensive physical training’s impact on an athlete’s menstrual cycle. Competitive and heavy physical activity during childhood can delay the onset of puberty, both in terms of secondary sexual development and menarche (first menstruation). Further, if an athlete follows an especially demanding exercise or training regimine, her periods might stop, even if she has had normal pubertal development and bleeding previously. This is known as exercise-induced amenorrhoea. Amenorrhoea is harmless for limited stretches of time but can be hazardous in the long term because the estrogen produced during a normal menstrual cycle is needed to help build bone mass in young women and to protect the heart.

Not all women who exercise or train intensively experience exercise-induced amenorrhoea; we do not yet fully understand its triggers. However, this type of amenorrhoea is associated with low bone mass and insufficient nutrition, often because the athlete has not altered her dietary intake to appropriately meet increased nutritional needs. In fact, this combination of amenorrhoea, low bone mass, and inadequate nutrition is common enough that it has its own name: the Female Athlete Triad. Athletes at risk should maintain a diet sufficient to meet their nutritional needs, maintain a healthy weight, track their menstrual cycles to ensure they are not missing periods, and seek help for repetitive injuries or if they develop disordered eating. (The latter most often occurs in sports and activities that emphasize leanness, such as gymnastics and running.)

As we have learned, bleeding while competing is often low among elite athletes’ concerns.Training safely, meeting nutritional needs, and maintaining a healthy weight have much more impact upon performance. Next time you experience a leak in public, before you panic, remember what Mirai says: don’t let it get to you. Save that energy for something more important, whether it be putting away the groceries or nailing that triple axel!

By: Sarah Hoyle-Katz

Challenging Another Stigma: What Happens When You Get Your Period in Public?

 Image Source :  Photojournalist  August Nyson  -  special thanks to     Schmohz Brewing Company .

Image SourcePhotojournalist August Nyson - special thanks to  Schmohz Brewing Company.

Imagine. You’re in public, perhaps running errands, and then you feel it. You just got your period. Unfortunately, you don’t have the supplies you need to manage this natural function. Maybe you were expecting it but simply forgot to pack products in your purse; maybe it’s irregular and caught you by surprise; or maybe you simply haven’t had the funds to purchase feminine hygiene products this month (a devastating reality for many women). You walk carefully and steadily to the nearest bathroom, silently praying that you’ll find the resources you need there.

Upon entering the bathroom, you are disheartened to find that there are no products available. There’s an old, dirty dispensing machine on the wall, but it’s empty. You resort to wadding up toilet paper to create a makeshift sanitary pad, which you will wear until you’re able to either purchase the products you need or go home.

This is an unfortunate reality for many women, and it puts their confidence, dignity, and even health at risk. In fact, 86% of women have gotten their period in public without supplies. As such, it’s important for businesses to meet the needs of their patrons by ensuring that feminine hygiene products are available in their restrooms. Product accessibility is a crucial aspect of women’s health and an increasingly hot topic of discussion. As such, I was inspired this month to pay closer attention to this issue right here in Grand Rapids, asking myself, “Are local businesses meeting the needs of their female patrons?”

Throughout the month, I made a conscious effort to examine the restroom of each business I visited throughout my normal activities, including stores, restaurants, gas stations, etc. I examined whether or not feminine hygiene products were available, if dispensers were stocked, and if wastebaskets were easily accessible.

I found that, while most businesses provided wastebaskets in the stalls for product disposal, very few provided feminine hygiene products in their restrooms. The minority that does provide them generally supplies them through a 25-cent dispensing machine, and, as many of us already know, you can’t always count on these dispensers being stocked. Watch our “Let’s Talk!” video about one such experience.

However, one local business serves as a shining example to others. Schmohz Brewing Company is the kind of place where you feel at home the moment you walk through the door. The warm, inviting atmosphere extends into the ladies’ restroom, where on the counter sits a basket filled with a variety of feminine hygiene products freely accessible to customers. This extra effort and thoughtfulness exemplifies Schmohz as a business that values all of its patrons. Gabi Palmer, the head brewer, shared that customers frequently express their thanks and appreciation, and I have no doubt that this extra effort—not to mention the delicious, unique beer—contribute to the company’s loyal and growing customer base. When women feel safe, valued, and welcome at an establishment, they return (often with friends)!

Fortunately, recent laws are guiding a shift toward greater product accessibility. New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Jersey have eliminated the tax on feminine hygiene products, lowering the financial burden women face for managing their period.  Most recently, Illinois has implemented a law requiring all public schools to supply free feminine hygiene products in their restrooms.

These laws show great progress, but we have a long way to go. Our hope is that more public places—including businesses, schools, and offices—will embrace accountability for recognizing and meeting women’s needs. Imagine the confidence it would bring women to know that if they get their period in public, they can count on products being available in the restroom. Workplaces would see increased productivity. Schools would see fewer absences and better grades. Businesses would see happier customers.

How can you help push for these positive changes? Next time you’re in a public restroom, if you notice a lack of feminine hygiene supplies, consider bringing it to management’s attention---not to admonish, but to expand the conversation. Perhaps that business owner simply hasn’t considered the positive results it could produce. In turn, if you visit a business that supplies these products, we encourage you to express your appreciation.

Progress can be slow moving when the conversations are kept quiet, and the efforts we make now could have a substantial impact on future generations. We’re here to extend a platform where members of our community feel safe and are equipped with the right tools to talk about these “uncomfortable” things until they’re not uncomfortable anymore!

By: Aanee Nichols

Resolutions and [Period] Revolutions: Overcoming Worries About Exercise During Your Cycle

Happy New Year! In the spirit of new beginnings and the season of resolutions, many of us consider ways to take better care of ourselves and practice healthy behaviors like eating well and exercising. Some days it can be a real struggle to get to the gym, and periods pose unique challenges—the cramps, the fatigue, the mess—that can potentially break our stride. Be a Rose is on a mission to encourage healthy choices for women, so let's talk about healthy periods and your exercise routine to foster a community of support for and among women.

During your period, the thought of sweatpants, ice cream, and a Netflix binge may sound more appealing than an hour on the elliptical. However, did you know that exercising during your period is one of the best ways to relieve all those pesky symptoms dragging you to the sofa? In addition to the release of feel-good endorphins that curb irritability, exercise increases the blood flow to ease cramps, headaches, back pain, and fatigue. Plus, increased heart rate and sweat help keep the digestive system on track, warding off constipation and bloating.

These key benefits should boost your confidence and motivation!

Now, what are the best exercises during your period? There are several perspectives on this topic. Some studies have indicated a correlation between menstruation and exercise-related injuries such as ligament tears in the knee (ACL tears), which is, in part, attributed to lowered motor control. Also, some assert that due to ligament strain during menstruation, vigorous exercise should be avoided. Consequently, these perspectives urge a more gentle exercise routine during your period, such as yoga or walking.

In contrast, others argue that low levels of estrogen and progesterone at the start of menstruation lead to more powerful workouts. Thus, women are encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity to add a few more reps to their weightlifting routines or add a greater incline on the treadmill. Fitness blogger Jennifer Blake shares that during her period, she feels empowered to “lift hard and often” and sees “the most consistent progress” in her training. Blake has found that tracking her cycle to manage her workouts has been an “invaluable” tool in getting to know her body well and planning her workouts to make the most out of hormonal fluctuations.

In addition to free apps available for tracking your period, there are innovative new products for managing your menstrual hygiene during exercise. If the thought of rogue tampon strings slipping out of your swimsuit or pads bunching and shifting in your shorts have kept you from the gym, we hope you’ll be encouraged to hear that feminine hygiene products have undergone drastic improvements to meet the needs of today’s women. Kotex now offers the “U by Kotex Fitness” line, which promises greater protection and comfort while the body moves. THINX has introduced a “sport” line of period panties designed for comfortable, flexible, leak-free protection. Menstrual cups, such as DivaCup, offer up to 12 hours of hassle-free protection, designed to “handle the various angles of your body movement.”

So, embrace your body and explore your options! And whether you choose to try a more intense workout or instead opt for a gentle practice during your period, the most important behavior is to listen to what your body tells you and respond to its needs. You know your body better than anyone else, and you are in charge of your own health. We hope that you stay well, keep encouraged, and continue to Be a Rose through 2018!

Emma 1.jpg

Photo Credit & Model: Emma Ombogo, Fitness Junkie

When she isn’t intensely evaluating financial risk as a professional auditor, Emma is intensely exercising to stay fit and active!

“Regular exercise doesn’t just make you stronger; it helps you get healthier, gives you more energy and I have experienced drastically reduced cramps and migraines.”

By: Aanee Nichols

Branching Out: An Inspiring Woman Stands Tall in Struggle, Strength & Solidarity

 Photographed: SPC Ngungiri (2015)

Photographed: SPC Ngungiri (2015)

At Be a Rose, we strive to expand the conversation on menstruation in a way that reaches all portions of the population, especially those who have been marginalized by society. We appreciate and celebrate those who give voice to their experiences and share their perspectives authentically and with enlightenment, honoring the complexity of their journeys.

Jane Ngunjiri carries such a voice. Her powerful story speaks to menstruation management under the most challenging circumstances, finding her purpose, recognizing what motivates her, and overcoming incredible obstacles to achieve her goals. Jane also emphasizes the value of a support system and finding strength through open, honest dialogue.

Born in Kenya, Jane immigrated to the United States when she was young and worked hard to adapt to an entirely new environment and culture. Despite her incredible strength and heart, Jane faced heavy challenges in her life, including a struggle with homelessness. However, she was determined to rise above her circumstances to give a better life to her son.

“My son is my life,” Jane said. “He pushes me to work hard.”

This love and commitment to her son, as well as her hunger for adventure, motivated her decision to join the United States Army Reserve. She was anxious, though, to tell her family in Kenya, fearing they would not understand and that it would cause them to worry. In fact, it wasn’t until she graduated from basic training that she told them! Although they indeed expressed concern, Jane ultimately found support and understanding from her family.

In basic training, Jane was again challenged to adapt to vastly different practices and behaviors than she was used to. Eating became one of the most immediate struggles. Jane—who had always been a slow eater—was forced to consume entire meals within five minutes. There was such great stress and pressure to learn to eat quickly that she “didn’t even taste the food—just chewed and swallowed.”

Another challenge for Jane was heavy cramping during her period. She was not permitted to keep medications with her belongings, so when she needed pain relief she had to visit the nurse at a scheduled time each day. There, she would need to give detailed descriptions of her cramping, which was a challenge in itself as Jane had always tried to keep her period private. This routine, however, caused her to become much more comfortable talking about her period, as it was the only means to access the pain relief she needed.

Jane shared the struggles of menstruation in the military, beginning with the difficulty of accurately tracking her cycle due to changes in diet and exercise. Menstruation was especially difficult to manage in the field, where there were no toilets—only bucket latrines—and where it was often dark and the lack of proper hygiene resources made it difficult to keep clean and prevent infections. Women primarily used feminine wipes to clean themselves as thoroughly as they could under the circumstances. The process of cleaning herself or changing her pad was made especially difficult by the weight of the gear and equipment layered on her small 115 pound frame. “Everything had to move quickly, but this process took so long,” she shared.

Although these challenges weighed on Jane, she discovered a great sense of support among the women with whom she served. She explained, “In the military, you’re trained not only to help yourself but to help each other.” These women were comfortable venting about their cramps or asking each other for pads as needed. Jane expressed that although these women have come from different countries, cultures, and life journeys, they were able to lean on each other and “act as a family,” sharing from their own experiences in the military and exchanging advice on menstruation management. They were also able to have fun and make jokes with each other, helping to foster this sense of camaraderie. Jane found encouragement in hearing the experiences of women who had been deployed, demonstrating the value of women sharing, lifting, and supporting one another.

“You become so strong just listening to those who have been deployed,” Jane reflected. In fact, her experience in the military has helped her to realize her own strength and potential. With the help of the army, Jane has studied for a career as a behavior analyst and is close to receiving her board certification.

“I have made it this far because I believed I could,” she said. She encourages women who are facing hardships of their own to maintain hope and be brave, and urges people to push beyond their comfort zone and embrace challenges as opportunities for growth. She exemplifies this inspirational mindset and model of behavior each day.  

Be a Rose is truly honored to share her story, and we hope that it will inspire you to persevere through life’s challenges and draw you to participate in a network of solidarity and support. To learn about ways in which you can support women in the military, we encourage you to visit the Service Women’s Action Network.

By: Aanee Nichols

 Photographed: Roy (Jane's son, 2015)

Photographed: Roy (Jane's son, 2015)

We Are All Wonder Women: Roshie Anne on Confidence and Community

 Image Source :    Arthur Hylton   | Model: Roshie Anne

Image SourceArthur Hylton | Model: Roshie Anne

Confidence is a seed within each of us. If we recognize its presence in our hearts and treat it with care and kindness, the confidence has potential to grow into a fabulous flower—one that produces new seeds, spreading and scattering them as they settle within the hearts of others. Fostering one’s own confidence and using it to help lift and support other people creates a chain reaction that makes the world bright, beautiful, and FILLED with wildflowers.

We are honored to introduce you to Roshie Anne, a woman who truly exemplifies confidence in all she does. Roshie’s passion shines through every facet of her work, and she strives to help others recognize and care for the seeds of confidence within their own hearts, appreciating beauty in themselves and others.

Roshie is a fashion designer living in New York City who manages a powerful lifestyle blog in which she shares her designs and inspirations, as well as insight into living well. Recognizing the value of a support system, Roshie expresses immense gratitude for her family. Growing up in Kenya as one of seven siblings, she built strong relationships with her brothers and sisters. There was a solid sense of support and appreciation of individuality within her household, and Roshie reflects, “It’s always been like that in my family. We will clap, cheer you on, and celebrate your quirks. I am proud to say that my siblings encourage me to be who I am.”

Having established an incredible eye for fashion, Roshie Anne describes her eclectic style as unconventional, which inspires the name of her blog: Anneconventional. In her work, Roshie challenges restrictive societal definitions of beauty and expands the concept of beauty in a way that promotes inclusion and empowerment. This year, Roshie collaborated with The Baldie Movement, which lifts bald women—whether by choice or circumstance—and supports them to embrace all aspects of their beauty, including their baldness.

Roshie asserts that beauty is not restricted to a certain hairstyle or the fashion trends of the times. Rather, it lies in trusting one’s gut, finding personal identity and style, and allowing that authentic identity to shine. That is where true confidence is born, and when that sense of self is recognized and appreciated by others, confidence is shared. There’s a section on Roshie’s blog called “Words from Wonder Women” in which she shares images and quotes from strong, influential women, serving as a source of inspiration and support. Roshie’s drive to lift others and foster empowerment as a community speaks directly to our mission at Be a Rose. There is tremendous value to be found in women serving and connecting with one another, and we strive to continue spreading seeds of confidence. At times, we are called to not only embrace our own beauty and confidence but to care for the seeds within others. This is how the full garden becomes the most beautiful.

“Beauty is everywhere,” Roshie says. “My hope is that whoever sees my work or reads my blog posts is empowered to be themselves and finds the courage to follow their dreams.”

We are inspired by Roshie Anne’s journey and applaud her efforts to lift other women and encourage them to embrace their authentic selves.

 

By: Aanee Nichols

Turning Noise Into Knowledge

 Image Source : Communications Manager   Aanee Kai

Image Source:Communications Manager Aanee Kai

In social media, we face a flood of content each time we look at our screens. There are certainly advantages to the platforms at our disposal, which let us stay up to date on the most current news and have immediate connection with others. However, a key disadvantage is the sheer amount of NOISE on social media. When people have the liberty of exploring myriad topics and newsfeeds are flooded with clickbait, it can be difficult to stay afloat in a thoughtful and socially responsible manner. 

Further, although people have opportunities to connect with others through technology, there seems to be a disconnect in the human aspect of these interactions. Perhaps we forget that the receiving end of our comments is not the keyboard on which we type them but the eyes, minds, and hearts that will be exposed to them. I define “noise” as those comments that are simple, uninformed, and abrasive in approach. Often, these are in the form of personal attacks, which triggers a chain reaction of antagonistic and divisive rhetoric until one party eventually “gives up.” Thus, productive and thoughtful dialogue is severely inhibited.

In our line of work, Be a Rose is constantly researching issues of women’s health and menstruation. These subjects are still widely stigmatized and considered taboo in many cultures. We see many controversial articles and stories and expect a varied range of responses. While a difference of opinion is certainly appreciated in terms of an informed debate, I am stricken by the comments fueled solely by sexism, ignorance, and hate. These comments are simply noise. Often, I feel compelled to respond to these comments but believe there are more meaningful strategies to challenge the stigma than engaging in fruitless online debates.

I want to challenge “noisy” comments in a way that fosters research and respect: two things that issues of women’s health severely lack and desperately deserve. I’ve selected two articles that address menstrual stigmatization and pulled samples of their Facebook comments My hope is that an examination of these reactions may expand the conversation in a purposeful way, addressing the stigmas and inequities that stifle conversation about women’s health. We aim neither to engage with internet “trolls” or antagonize those with differences of opinion. Rather, our mission is to open hearts and minds in a way that extends compassion and empowerment to women.

Context of the Source Material #1: An artist, Lili Murphy-Johnson, has crafted a collection of jewelry inspired by aspects of a woman’s period. This collection features a charm bracelet of feminine hygiene products and ring varieties laden with bright red crystals, including a ring design in the shape of a maxi-pad. This artist was inspired to “explore the idea of female bodily shame and debunk the taboo around menstruation.”

Facebook Comments:

there is nothing shameful.jpg

Context of Source Material #2: A yogi, Steph Gongora, was shooting a video of her hour-long practice when she experienced a leak. With heavy periods, leaks are common, and to demonstrate the normality of this experience—an experience that many women have faced—she chose to continue shooting the video and rather than hide her leak, she highlights it. Gongora explains that the ultimate purpose was to challenge period shame and “show that this is a subject that needs to be discussed and brought into the open.” She asserts that “in order to bring any attention to a subject, sometimes you need a little shock value.”

Facebook Comments:

a yogi.jpg

What are the common themes within these criticisms?

#1 – Period shaming doesn’t exist.
It does. These Facebook comments serve as substantial evidence, as they refer to periods as “gross,” “unsanitary,” and “disgusting.” For women within marginalized populations, the stigma can raise serious barriers in terms of access to resources. Period shaming exists to even greater depths on a global scale, as in some cultures menstruating women are exiled and isolated because they are viewed as “impure,” “dirty,” and “untouchable.”

#2 – A menstrual leak is equivalent to semen, urine, and fecal matter.
The fact is, yes, exposure to nearly all bodily fluids carries risk. However, to argue that a menstrual leak is the equivalent to knowingly and intentionally exposing others to fecal matter is both offensive and wildly incompatible. First, these fluids have entirely different chemical composition and bacteria content, and the chances of spreading rotavirus by carrying fecal “smears” on your clothing far outweigh the chances of spreading a bloodborne pathogen through a menstrual leak. On average, a woman’s menstrual flow falls between 1-2 fluid ounces and is composed of blood, uterine tissue, and vaginal fluid. It’s important to note that for woman without blood-related illness "menstrual blood is harmless and no toxins are released in the blood flow."For women carrying a blood-related condition such as HIV, though the pathogens may be present in menstrual blood, the likelihood of transmission through a leak is incredibly low, as the fluids would have to make direct contact with a mucus membrane of another person. Further, if the woman in question is receiving proper treatment for HIV, transmission becomes "virtually impossible" (which further illustrates the importance of awareness and accessibility to quality health care).
Lastly, we need to shift this perspective that menstrual leaks are an intentional scourge on society and shameful act of women. A recent study found that 86% of women have experienced an unexpected leak in public without necessary supplies to manage it. Perhaps we should reframe the perspective so that we are not asking “How dare she?” but rather, “How can we help?”

#3 – Women who challenge menstrual stigmatization are doing so for a sense of self-importance.
Women, such as Murphy-Johnson and Gongora, are challenging menstrual stigmatization in a way that lifts and supports other women by showing that yes, periods are natural, normal, and sometimes messy, and that it’s OKAY to talk about it. Kiran Gandhi raised awareness in 2015 by running the London Marathon during her period without using feminine hygiene products. Gandhi shared that while this was a personal choice she made for comfort, she recognized that for many women, free-bleeding is not a choice but an inevitability. She explains that she did this "for sisters who don’t have access to tampons and sisters who, despite cramping and pain, hide it away and pretend like it doesn’t exist."

To be fair, there were also positive comments on these articles, demonstrating that awareness and compassion are not entirely lost in social media. There is hope, and we must continue to lift and support these voices of kindness and empowerment. 

Not for me personally......jpg

Women are stepping forward and standing up for each other, and efforts to raise awareness should be met with appreciation or at least thoughtful discussion, not hateful criticism. If anything, the noisy negative comments illustrate the need for us to continue to fight the stigma. Let’s work together to dial down the NOISE on our Facebook feeds and turn up the KNOWLEDGE. By spreading awareness of issues of women’s health and supporting increased accessibility to feminine hygiene products, you can BE A ROSE.

By: Aanee Nichols

Making PAP a Priority

 Image Source :  Photographer   Precious Dandridge  . Model:   Communications Manager   Aanee Kai

Image SourcePhotographer Precious Dandridge. Model: Communications Manager Aanee Kai

Taking ownership of your health is a key aspect of self-empowerment and wellness. This sense of ownership carries responsibility and accountability, including regular check-ups with your doctor and keeping up to date on health screenings, such as the Pap test.

The Pap test (also known as a Pap smear) is the examination of cervical cells to detect abnormalities that could lead to cancer. With over 12,000 new diagnoses each year, cervical cancer remains a critical issue of women’s health. Early detection is essential to prevention, and the Pap test has been proven the most effective protection for women against cervical cancer.

What does the Pap test entail? At the doctor’s office, you lie on your back with your feet in the stirrups at the end of the table. Typically, you’ll feel warmth from the doctor’s examination lamp. The doctor will insert a speculum, which is a tool (often metal or plastic) that widens the vaginal walls, allowing visual inspection and access to the cervix. Then, the doctor will insert a swab to collect cell samples that will be placed in a liquid container and sent to a lab for examination. Results are typically returned within less than a week.

Myth: Pap tests are unnecessary for women without a family history of cervical cancer.
Truth: The majority of women diagnosed with cervical cancer have no family history of it.

Myth: Women should douche before their Pap test.
Truth: Douching can trigger inaccurate test results by masking abnormalities. In fact, douching is not recommended at all, as it may actually increase the risk of certain infections.

Myth: Pap tests are painful.
Truth: During the test, you might feel pressure or pinching but certainly no substantial pain.

Yes, it’s a slightly uncomfortable test. However, there is good news! The test generally only takes a couple of minutes and is covered at zero cost by most health insurance plans; for those who are uninsured, there are providers with highly affordable, accessible options.

Be a Rose facilitates workshops at HQThe Hispanic Center of West Michigan, refugee centers, as well as partner group homes and schools. These workshops provide a safe and comfortable space in which Be a Rose founder Christine Mwangi educates women and answers their questions about feminine health and hygiene. Further, Christine helps participants connect with local providers, emphasizing the importance of establishing a relationship with an OB/GYN and scheduling regular check-ups to maintain wellness. 

To learn more about Pap tests and cervical cancer prevention, we encourage you to check out the American Cancer Society and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. See VeryWell for a nationwide list of providers offering free or low-cost screenings.

Here are several providers within the Grand Rapids community that offer affordable care, particularly for those who are uninsured:
Cherry Health                                                              (616) 965-8308
Exalta Health                                                               (616) 475-8446
Planned Parenthood                                                     (616) 459-3101              

Interested in supporting not only your own health but the health of your community? Visit the websites linked to each listed provider to learn about the ways you can support these organizations through donations and/or volunteerism.  

Remember, no one has control over your health and body but you, so treat yourself with kindness and responsibility. Be a Rose encourages you to own your health and schedule your Pap test today!

By: Aanee Nichols

Menstruation and Homelessness: A Call to Action to Preserve Dignity and Spread Compassion

  Image Source:  Photographer  Precious Dandridge .  Special thanks to mode  l Hailey Jones.

Image Source: Photographer Precious DandridgeSpecial thanks to model Hailey Jones.

A woman’s period does not stop when she is terminated from employment. A woman’s period does not stop when she faces domestic abuse. A woman’s period does not stop when she struggles with addiction. A woman’s period does not stop when she is evicted or kicked out of her home by her family.

A woman’s period does not stop when she is homeless.

The cost of menstruation is substantial, estimated at over $18,000 throughout the course of a woman’s lifetime. For homeless women, pads, tampons, fresh underwear, pain relief, and soap are often devastatingly inaccessible, forcing them to resort to unsanitary and dangerous methods to manage their menstruation. Bustle writer Janet Upadhye reports that women have resorted to using “socks, paper towels, plastic bags, toilet paper, towels, cotton balls, or clothing in place of hygiene products.” This can cause serious immediate and long-term damage to their physical as well as mental and emotional health.

In a compelling exposé video posted on Bustle, viewers catch a glimpse of the raw daily experience of homelessness through the perspectives of several women. These women face struggles that likely would not even occur to the majority of the population, including the mandatory and heartbreaking choice between food or tampons. One woman, Donna, shares that upon arrival of her period she’s had to “just sit still until [she] came up with something” to manage the bleeding. Resorting to public restroom sinks for makeshift showers and splashing water from cups as they straddle them in order to clean themselves, these women all express a desire to maintain dignity through hygiene. Donna shares, “You just want to feel clean like everybody else.”

For women within this vulnerable population, the challenge to escape the vicious cycle of homelessness becomes agonizingly difficult when compounded by the monthly costs thrust upon them simply for being a woman. On average, packages of pads cost $5.84 and tampons cost $7.62. Dignity and confidence become an unaffordable privilege in contrast to a human right.

This has to stop.

There is good news! YOU can make a difference and help lift women who are struggling with homelessness. There are several opportunities for you to provide support:

DONATE –

Dégagé Ministries, a friend and partner of Be a Rose, supports those struggling with homelessness in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dégagé serves those in need by providing hygiene facilities, low-cost meals, and assistance with a wide scope of personal needs, including transportation, prescription co-pays, clothing, and applying for employment. Please consider donating to this noble mission.

Distributing Dignity partners with organizations and shelters spanning twelve states to provide vulnerable populations of women with news bras and feminine hygiene products. We invite you to visit their website and contribute to this meaningful cause.

Helping Women Period (HWP), a nonprofit organization based in Lansing, MI, has made incredible efforts to serve homeless and low-income women. In 2016, HWP distributed over 120,000 feminine hygiene products! Be a Rose is thrilled to partner with HWP under the common goal of providing relief to underserved populations of women. We encourage you to get involved!

 DISTRIBUTE –

Create “Health and Hygiene Kits” to distribute personally. Please check out this list of suggested guidelines for these kits, which highlights the most useful items, as well as meaningful ways to foster compassion and dignity through this approach.

SPREAD AWARENESS –

Issues of homelessness are already widely neglected and unrecognized as a priority. When compounded with the largely stigmatized subject of menstruation, the conversation becomes yet even more hushed. Pretending these issues do not exist does nothing to solve them. Speak up and speak out! We encourage you to research, share, and spread articles that address these critical issues. A simple “share” on Facebook can reach hundreds of people within your own network. This helps to normalize these issues and bring them to the forefront of people’s minds and conversations, further encouraging a collaborative effort to take action.

Be a Rose is committed to continue breaking barriers, challenging stigmas, and providing much-needed support to women in need. We firmly believe that as human beings, we are all deserving of health, compassion, and dignity. We invite you to subscribe to this blog to keep abreast of issues of women’s health, and we hope you’ll also consider showing your support through a donation to our cause.

When people unite through kindness and generosity, amazing things can happen!

By: Aanee Nichols