Aunt Flo Went to the London Marathon

Blogger, marathoner and musician Kiran Gandhi made headlines recently for her choice to "free bleed," i.e. use no feminine hygiene product, while running the London Marathon on her period. 


How to describe my first reaction? Well, it went something like this: 


Gandhi has been quoted by various sources as saying that her goal was twofold: To break the stigma against menstruation and "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."

Indeed, poor women in third world countries, and in our own country, are forced to use dirty rags, leaves, or other materials to stanch the menstrual flow. This can lead to urogenital infection and reproductive issues, and can have an effect on maternal mortality. 

Young girls are missing school during their menses because they don't have sanitary napkins, and are too embarrassed to attend class.

And think about how much money you spend on your period each month. Are you buying tampons, liners, pads? Maybe Midol or some other over-the-counter drug to alleviate cramps? For homeless women or women living in poverty, those items are a luxury, sometimes an untenable one. 

But neither Gandhi's blog, nor any of the many, many articles I've read about her free-bleed run, provided any sort of information about how to actually help with the very real problem that many women don't have access to proper feminine hygiene supplies. 

Noble though Gandhi's intentions might have been, there are more effective (and let's be honest, less sensationalistic) solutions: 

1) Start a tampon/pad/Midol drive at your school, office, place of worship, etc. to provide homeless women, or women in third world countries, with the necessary. Donate through an organization or create care packages and distribute them directly to women you see on the street. (Sure, include candy. Or chocolate.)

2) Check out No Taboo, Period, an organization started by University of Maryland students to promote awareness about the need for access to sanitary products. According to the group's Facebook page, they donate feminine hygiene products to the ladies at N Street Village

3) Contact organizations like Calvary Women's Services, Miriam's Kitchen or A Wider Circle and ask if they collect menstrual products. If not, work with them to spearhead that effort.

4) Offer to give "period education" sessions to pre-pubescent girls at places like Community of Hope, Girls Inc, or Girls on the Run. If you are going to do this, however, please make sure you've educated yourself in order to give accurate information. I used to be, essentially, a sex ed peer counselor, and yes, I got questions like "does using a tampon mean I'm not a virgin?" and "can I get pregnant from using a tampon?" 

In an interview with Cosmo, Gandhi she didn't know if it was safe to run with a tampon in or if she would hurt herself. I'm not a runner. Long-distance ladies, any insights? 

5) Just act like having a period is a normal thing, because it is. If you feel like crap and have to miss work or ditch plans, say "I have cramps," not "I have a headache." Ask a female coworker, "Hey, do you have a tampon?" in the same tone as you'd ask, "Hey, do you have an aspirin?" 

6) Donate to an organization like Afripads, which not only provides reusable menstrual kits to girls in Africa, but provides employment opportunities for women.


About the Author: Holly Leber is the editorial director at the Daily Do Good. She will never run a marathon. She tries to keep a spare tampon in her bag in case there's a fellow woman in need. 



Cupcakes and Condoms: A Sweet Afternoon

You don’t often find red velvet cupcakes and contraceptives on the same table, but at the Napoleon Bistro on March 7, The Red Pump Project proved that sweets and safe sex talk make a perfect pairing.

Cupcakes and Condoms is “a sweet afternoon of desserts and girl talk about sexual health,” said DC ambassador and event organizer Brittani Menina. “A lot of African American women, once diagnosed (with HIV), are not going for treatment or care.”

The Red Pump Project hopes to reduce stigma and promote education so women affected by HIV and AIDS can seek the help they need.

 Cupcakes and Condoms, unlike other Red Pump events, is a woman-only forum to encourage frank discussion about the questions and challenges women face regarding sexual health. The panel, which featured four health advocates and HIV researchers, addressed a range of topics from HIV transmission misconceptions to masturbation in a lively exchange.

“With everything else, we protect our kids,” sexual health researcher Candace Sibley pointed out. “They don’t ride a bike without a helmet. But when it comes to sex, they’re bombarded.”

“Girls think, ‘[HIV is] all around me, so at some point, I’ll get it,” added Jennifer Sinkfield, an HIV researcher at Children’s National Medical Center. She believes this desensitization may lead young women to be lax about safe sex because they don’t trust condoms to protect them.

A Cupcakes and Condoms attendee, also named Jennifer, was gratified to learn how to broach “The Talk” with her three daughters, who range in age from 5 to 16. “I want to have information to give to her so she doesn’t get an STI or HIV,” she said.

Cupcakes and Condoms attendees also got the chance to explore a lesser-known safe sex option. This happens to be Brittani’s favorite part of the afternoon.

“Most people don’t know how to use [female condoms],” she said with a sly smile. “You get a lot of faces.”

You get a lot of laughter, too, as it turns out. After demonstrator Bria Hamlet unfurled the condom, she produced a plastic vulva model to a chorus of cheers. After answering crowd questions (no, the condom won’t slip out; yes, it’s just as sturdy as the male version), she passed samples around so women could practice applying them on their hands.

It’s a racier version of a common sleepover trope, and many women were laughing as they poked the latex into place. With the scheduled events concluded, guests broke off into groups to talk or sought out panelists for additional questions.

Missed the festivities? The Red Pump Project now has ambassadors fundraising and leading events in five cities. March 10th is National Women and Girls HIV Awareness Day, and the organization urges people to #RocktheRedPump with feisty red footwear and conversation with partners about how to keep things sexy and safe.

About the Author: Jessica Sillers is a Washington, DC-based writer. She has volunteered as a teacher's assistant in Faridabad, India, and on a farm in Ireland. Contact her at