When I got the first email telling me the application I submitted was chosen, I barely remembered submitting it. But then reality began kicking in, and the more I learned, I started to realise what a big deal this was going to be. I realised what a massive platform it is to make the entire continent hear about the innovation I was going to represent, the work I’ve been doing for so long and been so endlessly passionate about.
I work as the Research/M&E Coordinator for Femme International, an organisation that focusses on menstrual health. We run comprehensive education workshops and distribute reusable menstrual products that are financially and environmentally sustainable. When we go back for M&E, women and girls tell us that they feel ‘free’ and confident (amongst other things). And then they ask where their menstruating friends and family can also get a reusable pad or a menstrual cup.
In most of Africa, the answer is overwhelming ‘you can’t.’ And that’s not fair.
Menstruation is not only directly linked to achieving 8 of the SDGs, but also basic human rights, and every menstruator deserves access to information, and high-quality, affordable products. And so the innovation is firstly reusable menstrual products, and then, more importantly, making those menstrual products available, affordable, and accessible to ALL menstruators.
My volunteer was an incredible, passionate young woman named Samila Macedo. I’m pretty sure she was more prepared than I was – she had researched our work, downloaded and read reports and available materials, I was blown away. And right off the bat, she stepped up to the plate, handled anything, and made me wish I had a Sam 24/7. At one point, another Innovator (Jacqui, from ‘My Pregnancy Journey’) and I were called away to talk to students at Jean Piaget University, and I left Sam doing a meeting for me. Thanks to her, I could be two places at once, and fully trust that she would handle it.
A skilled photographer, I also gave her access to my phone and let her do her thing. She tapped into her social media and amplified mine and Femme’s, also bringing her friends into the fold. On Cape Verdean Women’s Day, we had an empowering photoshoot with reusable menstrual products, because lack of access to information and resources really does make it harder for women’s voices to be heard, for them to fully participate in their community, to earn the same wages as their male counterparts, and to live a life free of overwhelming anxiety and shame every month.
The response from forum attendees has been both expected and gratifying. Menstrual cups are so simple, and yet they are a game-changer for menstruators; making them accessible, even more so.The entire experience is almost surreal. The opportunity the 30 of us received, the platform, visibility, networks, and friendships are immeasurable. There are 29 other people’s networks and connexions we can tap into and piggyback off to get our own innovations into new countries and regions. It’s so cool that the 30 of us continue to share ideas, funding opportunities, insights and advice, with the goal of working together to collectively achieve more than any one of us could individually. So maybe that’s what the WHO platform is really all about – yes, it elevates our innovations in a way that we probably wouldn’t have achieved on our own. But more than that, it connects 30 incredible ideas to something far greater than, individually, we could ever hope to achieve.