Shelly-Ann “Dr Sexy-Ann” Weeks
Let’s talk about PERIODs. As a child, the first time I heard about PERIOD was when my older sister, Trudy, got sick and there was a flurry of whispers and activity around the house. Of course, at 7, I didn’t understand what was happening and was quickly rushed out of the room. By the time I had my first PERIOD, I was familiar with the protocol based on my sister’s experience. I knew that I needed pads; I was to be careful not to make anyone know that I had my period and I was to make special effort that no man, not even my father, is ever exposed to anything to do with my Period. It was my little secret that I had to keep. What I was not prepared for was the pain and discomfort – the feeling as if my body was taken over by aliens.
As I got older my PERIODS got progressively heavier and more painful. I was eventually diagnosed with uterine fibroids and I chose to change my diet and avoided a hysterectomy. As a result, I improved my overall quality of life exponentially, I was moved to write and publish my first book I CHANGED MY DIET AND CHANGED MY LIFE.
As a part of the promotion for my book, I met many women who shared their own experiences with PERIOD. I realized that quite a few of these women were unable to afford sanitary products which is defined Period Poverty.
One of the ladies I met, told me that she would steal a diaper from the from the family of the child she was baby sitting and cut it in strips and that’s what she would use each month.
In 2016, I started Her Flow as a project for an Advocacy Training Program I did with We Change. Her Flow was created to address the stigma and shame still associated with PERIODS, that I experienced when I was younger, that I observed still existed – so I started by creating Period Awareness Day on October 24. In 2017, Period Awareness Day expanded to a week and included a school tour where we visited 10 schools in 3 days.
This tour was especially life changing for me because it was brought to my attention that much of the challenges I had as an adolescent still existed. Young women are still not empowered to embrace their bodies, still not educated about their reproductive health and rights and many of them are not equipped with the basic items they need to get through their daily lives – many of them were also affected by Period Poverty. As a matter of fact, one of these young ladies said to me that she was able to use 1 pad for her entire period.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the statistics on the number of women and girls in Jamaica are affected by Period Poverty. But so that we can have a glance at the number girls in public schools, as a guideline, we have chosen to use the School Feeding program – because, let’s face it, if these young ladies cannot afford lunch, they will not be able to afford pads either. Approximately 300,000 students are a part of the National School Feeding Program in public schools. If approximately half of the students are girls – 150,000 then an estimate of about 70,000 of them may be experiencing puberty and are directly affected by Period Poverty.
On a final note: I applaud the way policy makers and NGOs have acted to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It is my dream to see that type of effort behind eradication Period Poverty in this country, especially in our schools. Today, young people who need it have access to free condoms – as it should be.
We should treat Period Poverty as the emergency it is and have these essential products also accessible for free to the women and girls who need them. Remember – sex is a choice, period is not, let’s end period poverty.
Thank you, Shelly-Ann Weeks