Global Roundup: Kashmiri Women Promoting Menstrual Health, First Pride in Canadian Indigenous Community, Photographing Beirut’s Resilient Women, UK Women’s Prison Alternative
Curated by FG Contributor Inaara Merani
Featured Image Source: Ridwana Akhtar (Feminism in India)
After witnessing the lack of awareness and knowledge about menstrual health among women in Narupura, India, Ridwana Akhtar began a transformative movement in her community. In March 2023, her hard work came to fruition as the first-ever Sanitary Pad Manufacturing Unit opened in Narupura.
After owning and operating a successful boutique and completing her Masters of Philosophy in Urdu, Akhtar wanted to create positive change for the women in her community. In 2021, she learned about the “My Pad My Right” program, initiated by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development. The program offered free sanitary pad-making assembly machines, raw materials, training materials, and financial support for self-help groups (SHGs). After realizing the potential to empower women while combating misinformation, Akhtar formed the Al-Qaria SHG.
Akhtar took on the responsibility of educating women and young girls in the village about menstrual health and hygiene. She conducted awareness sessions to debunk myths and emphasize the importance of personal hygiene, using menstrual products, and dispelling taboos associated with menstruation.
The taboo surrounding menstruation has been deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness, breeding a sense of shame that lingers on and affects women throughout their lives. It is high time we break free from these oppressive chains and embrace a new paradigm—one that champions open conversations, knowledge, and empowerment. – Ridwana Akhtar
Her dedication to the cause allowed for the opening of Narupura’s first menstrual product manufacturing facility. Al-Qaria’s menstrual products, known as ‘NISSA’, promote comfort and quality. Using raw materials such as air-laid paper, wood pulp, and spandex, the pads created at this facility offer high levels of absorption and leak protection. They can also be used as maternity pads for new mothers during the postpartum period. The self-help group has around 10 women who help with the manufacturing process. Akhtar’s creation of Al-Qaria has demonstrated how powerful education about menstrual hygiene can be.
I’d never used a sanitary napkin before because I was hesitant to purchase one from a store. However, these days I happily use the sanitary pads I make along with the other villagers’ ladies. Although I still don’t feel comfortable buying pads from a drugstore, the existence of manufacturing facilities has proven to be a blessing. – Farula Banoo, member of Al-Qaria
Parade participants walk in Kahnawake’s first pride parade. Photo: Emelia Fournier/APTN
On June 24, the Indigenous community Kahnawà:ke celebrated its first-ever 2SLGBTQ+ parade. Hundreds of people gathered and marched along the Old Malone highway, while hundreds more lined the highway and cheered them on. The banner leading the parade, held by Kahnawake youth, read “sha’tetionkwatenoronhkwhahtserá:te”, meaning “Our love is on the same level” in Kanien’keha.
Community members, local business owners, paramedics, and local government officials walked the parade, including the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake’s grand chief, Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer and Chief Ross Montour. Sky-Deer is Kahnawake’s first grand chief to identify as 2SLGBTQ+.
It’s 2023 we shouldn’t be afraid, we shouldn’t be hiding. I’m just so happy with the turnout, the number of people that are here showing support and love for the LGBT community here in Kahnawake, it’s about time. – Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer
In many Indigenous communities, Two-Spirit people existed long before colonization; they were valued, sacred members of the community. Today, queer people and Two-Spirit people live a different reality and experience exclusion and discrimination. Residents of Kahnawake emphasized that this Pride parade was symbolic of bringing the community back to its roots, understanding that everyone is sacred and should be loved by their community.
Emerson Rheault, a 17-year-old non-Indigenous transmasculine person from the neighbouring Quebec community of Chateaugay, volunteered at the parade.
It’s really important also for me to help with events that are started by queer Indigenous people, because I think that as a whole the LGBTQ community doesn’t really take care of or respect our Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer siblings…It’s really important to support events like these that allow queer Indigenous people in their communities to really be themselves and see that they’re loved. - Emerson Rheault
‘Demi Kanaan was injured in the 2020 explosions. I photographed her on the eve of the anniversary. She chose this location and wrote: “We were mesmerised by the fragmented building. Each broken piece told a familiar story.”’ Photograph: Rania Matar (The Guardian)
Rania Matar is a photographer from Lebanon who explores issues of personal and collective identity, with images of female adolescence and womanhood. She was born and raised in Lebanon and moved to the US in 1984. Informed by her experiences of being a Lebanese-born American woman and mother, her cultural background and her personal narrative, Matar has told the stories of countless women.
A recent photograph of hers is a portrait of Demi Kanaan, who was injured in the Beirut port explosion almost three years ago. The explosion killed at least 218 people and injured more than 7000 people. Matar found inspiration in the women who were volunteering in Beirut’s reconstruction after the explosions. Instead of focusing on the destruction of the port, she focused on their creativity, strength, dignity, and resilience.
She began photographing these women against meaningful backdrops in Beirut, the Mediterranean, mountains, traditional and abandoned buildings, and the destructed areas from over the years.
The image of Demi Kanaan is taken in the mountain village of Brummana, outside Beirut. She now lives in the mountains, but the explosion remains fresh in her mind. Kanaan wanted to own the date again and wanted to be photographed with smashed glass, saying it was cathartic. The day after the photo shoot, she got a tattoo of broken glass.
The work is focused on Lebanon, but speaks to the whole era of life in the Middle East; to the collapse of a country but also to the resilience and creativity of a population as seen through its women, at a time when women from the Middle East are grossly misrepresented in the media. It also speaks of exile – my own, but also those young women’s and the painful decision they face in determining whether to leave home, or to remain despite the conditions. – Rania Matar
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This week in Southampton, England, the charity One Small Thing opened the drug rehab facility ‘Hope Street.’ It is a pioneering 24-space residential scheme designed and developed by One Small Thing, working closely with Snug Architects and women with lived experience of the justice system.
It offers a community alternative to prison for women so their children can remain with them and to help them break the cycle of reoffending and serving repeated, often short prison sentences.
Women can be placed at Hope Street when they are subject to a community order, when on remand, or after being released from prison. It is estimated that around 117,000 children are separated from their mothers each year, many of them ending up in emergency foster care. In the UK, it is also estimated that a third of women in prison have been in foster care themselves.
Each Hope Street resident will receive tailored programmes which will address the causes that led to their involvement in the criminal justice system. During their time, the hope is that these women will have the skills, education, training, and support they need to break the cycle of reoffending. The facility will have 24 spaces for women and their children.
Hope Street will encourage growth and reform in different ways that do not involve placing women in the criminal justice system. The majority of women in prison in the UK are repeat offenders, therefore, prison is not the solution for every offence, and this facility is meant to challenge the current penal method and find better ways to support women.
When I was in prison, being separated from my children and seeing the impact it had on them was the hardest thing I had to deal with…While I was in one prison, three women took their own lives. I think we have about 4,000 female prisoners. Probably about 3,500 of them are repeat offenders. Prison doesn’t work. - Lilly Lewis, the women’s involvement adviser for One Small Thing
Hope Street will be independently evaluated over the next few years, and if it is successful, the organization is hopeful that the model can be implemented nationally to support women in all parts of the UK.
Women have been retrofitted into prison services built for men. As a philanthropist, it’s not enough to give a bit of money here or there. I have to build a system and I’m convinced this is the way we need to do it. – Edwina Grosvenor, founder of One Small Thing
Inaara Merani (she/her) recently completed her Masters degree at the University of Western Ontario, studying Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies with a specialization in Transitional Justice. In the upcoming years, she hopes to attend law school, focusing her career in human rights law.
Inaara is deeply passionate about dismantling patriarchal institutions to ensure women and other marginalized populations have safe and equal access to their rights. She believes in the power of knowledge and learning from others, and hopes to continue to learn from others throughout her career.