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Woman power rocks at free health workshop

March 22, 2010

Last Saturday, a small group of women, ranging in age from 16 through 60, met for The Bloom Collective’s Empowered Women’s Health workshop.  The group not only learned valuable information from the wise women who presented, they also gained invaluable advice and sisterly support from each other.

Conversations covered everything from how to handle catcalls and sexual “compliments” in the workplace to the need for men and boys to take sexual responsibility in relationships.

Simple Herbal Remedies for Mothers and Others

Nettle, or "stinging nettle," is native to our area.

Chrysta Coronado opened the day by offering the group an herbal tea alternative to coffee that calmed stress and naturally awakened the body’s own energy.

She then shared techniques for brewing infusions, decoctions and tinctures made from common herbs that grow wild in our yards and nearby wild areas, such as red clover, red raspberry, dandelion and nettle. “Once we bleed, we need iron and calcium. Nettles are a woman’s ally,” Coronado said. “Nettles have magical serpent energy. They provide iron, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C and they are diuretic, toning to the uterus.”

After polling the group, she focused her talk on herbs that help regulate the menstrual cycle, thereby relieving cramps, irregular bleeding and symptoms of PMS. She shared about herbs that boost fertility and others that discourage pregnancy.

Women & AIDS: Alive and Well in Kent County

Kelly Knudtson, a Bloom core member who works at The Grand Rapids Red Project CleanWorks needle exchange program, spoke about the relationship between women’s lack of power and the AIDS epidemic. AIDS is the number 1 killer of women worldwide and now infects more women than men. While the epidemic is perceived as being more widespread in developing countries, HIV and AIDS are alive and well in the US, Michigan and Grand Rapids. Last year, three infants were born with HIV in Grand Rapids. With prenatal drugs now available, this simply should not have happened.

Girls and women are more likely to contract AIDS than boys and men not only because receptive sex is more likely to transmit the virus but also because females often lack power in relationships, due to gender inequality and violence. Many girls and women find it difficult to insist on condom use, even when violence is not a threat. “Poor women and girl are at highest risk,” Knudtson said. “Women are not involved in AIDS policy making. Women have less access to healthcare and to jobs. Sex work is an unfortunate reality even in Grand Rapids.”

Teen girls are at risk for HIV in Grand Rapids. Clamydia outbreaks among teens locally means that these kids are engaging in the same behaviors that put them at risk for HIV and AIDS. “Teenage girls are less likely to negotiate condom use,” Knudtson said. “Media sensationalizes teenage pregnancy. The girls carrying around babies could just as well be carrying HIV and AIDS.”

De-sanitizing Our Menstrual Health

After a delicious potluck lunch, the day concluded with a highly informative presentation on menstrual health. Rachael Hamilton shared facts and figures from her studies that encompassed marketing campaigns for menstrual products and how they cash in on our cultures’ twisted view of menstruation as something private, dirty, gross and disabling. “We have a spectrum of choices that we are not made aware of, from mainstream products found on the grocery store shelf to DIY pads,” Hamilton said. “Tampons are convenient but they cause cancer, are bad for the environment and made by companies that are concerned with making money, not with our comfort or health.”

Commercial tampons not only contain carcinogens (bleach and dioxins) they also cause microscopic tears in the vaginal wall, making women more susceptible to Toxic Shock. Their use is also linked to endometriosis.

While the group sewed their own menstrual pads, Rachael shared information on the range of ways women can deal with their monthly flow.

Organic commercial tampons are somewhat less harmful. Menstrual cups (Diva and The Keeper) are healthy alternatives. Teen girls might be more comfortable using sea sponges as a tampon alternative. One participant suggested rolled up baby socks.

Most commercial pads contain carcinogens, as well, though exposure is somewhat less as they are not used internally. Women can purchase reusable cloth pads online (Glad Rags, Luna Cloths), or make their own. Patterns and directions are easy to find online as well. “The way we view menstruation can impact our health,” Hamilton said. “Women who lack menstrual knowledge have fewer tools to navigate sexual situations and have more difficulty saying ‘no.’  They are less likely to breastfeed their babies. And, there is a mental health component. Menstruation is a natural process that should build confidence, self-esteem and a communal time for women rather than make them feel dirty and be an isolating event.”

While hundreds, maybe thousands, more women may have attended last week’s commercially motivated Women’s Expo downtown, this writer doubts that they received anything as valuable, relevant or empowering as this simple gathering provided. As the workshop demonstrated,  women have a great store of wisdom to share with each other in community.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Deirdre permalink
    March 25, 2010 3:39 am

    Also, best vegan blueberry muffins ever were provided by Stelle, and eaten mainly by me. 🙂
    And I’ve been stitchin up a mess o pads! Great event!

  2. emily permalink
    March 25, 2010 4:02 am

    great write up about an awesome workshop. it was so empowering to spend the day with like minded females.

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