Header: Erol Ahmed via Unsplash.
Some time ago we did an interview with Iulia Mitzner. She founded the app Queen of the Neighborhood (short: QUOTN), which connects users with sustainable companies founded or run by women and trans*. Once a month, the "Queen of the Month" is chosen and presented in a video interview. Since January this year we present the Queen of the Month also here on tbd* (Check out our Queen of April «Dzaino» here!).
This month, the Queen of the Month crown goes to the Menstrual Health Hub. What's it all about? We asked Danielle Keiser – CEO & Executive Director of Menstrual Health Hub – this question in our interview.
I just went on your site and there is A LOT of information and different things going on. Could you summarise for us, what the Menstrual Health Hub is exactly?
Danielle: The Menstrual Health Hub is a hybrid social business - we are both a collective impact nonprofit and a strategic consultancy focused on gender and female health.
On our nonprofit side, we focus on 1.), Global ecosystem building, which involves growing and sustaining a global network of menstrual health players so that they are connected, informed and thus well-equipped with the latest updates and resources to continue their work around MHH (as of May 2020, the Global MH Registry had 660 entities from 84 countries; register here if you know others that work in MH and want to get on the map); 2.), Knowledge-Sharing: We have established and manage a free, open-access online knowledge platform for menstrual and female health information sharing research, education and learning approaches, relevant policy & innovations; and 3.), Awareness-raising and supporting existing advocacy efforts: We are driven to increase the collective awareness of menstruation and menstrual health and its core connection to female health, and stop at nothing to integrate it where we can. We support organizations working in influencing and contributing to national, regional and international advocacy efforts around menstrual health to ensure that it is a priority on policy agendas.
Mariana de la Roche, Milena Bacalja Perianes & Danielle Keiser
On our consulting side, we developed a nuanced design methodology called Women-Centered Design to strategically help inform the development of campaigns, programs, products and services that better meet girls and women's needs. Here we work with corporates, donors, investors, accelerator programs and INGOs and use the menstrual cycle as the entry point to being able to more meaningfully address female health across the lifecycle.
I saw you have a background in politics and communications. How did your work and interest in menstrual health start?
Danielle: Yes, I have always been interested in the interaction of politics and media and how we as a society can develop strategic communications to help change attitudes and behaviors around important issues. My work around menstrual health started when I was hired in 2013 to work at a Berlin-based social impact organization focused on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) behavior change communications, called WASH United, to help launch and grow a yearly campaign – Menstrual Hygiene Day (28 May).
This campaign was intended to create a platform for all those to break the silence around menstruation and celebrate the important role that good menstrual hygiene plays in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential. I immediately became obsessed with my work - driving communications and engaging the global community - around the topic, and have not stopped since. I left MH Day at the end of 2015 to start my own organization in 2016, the Menstrual Health Hub, which I have since built from the ground up with my two amazing co-founders.
Today is “Menstrual Health Day” (which I saw you also helped to launch). Surely a special day for the Menstrual Health Hub. What do you have planned? Can you talk about how this got started and why? (answered above)
Danielle: Yes, MH Day (and all of Menstrual May) has become more significant than even my birthday the last 7 years! Normally we host an event here in Berlin with our local community, but in light of COVID19, everything has gone online – to our Facebook and Instagram! For this year, leading up to MH Day, we have been shining a spotlight on #MenstrualWarriors, or organizations that have been doing excellent work around the topic, whether through their programs, campaigns, products, etc., we're dedicated to continuing to raise awareness and supporting the existing advocacy efforts of other organizations. Check out our latest Menstrual Memo for more on all the interesting events happening around the day!
Menstrual Health and Hygiene Day 2019 in Namibia
As a non profit organisation, could you tell us a little bit about how you are organised and financed?
Danielle: Sure, we have set up something called an Inner Circle, or a close group of strategic partners that collectively help finance our collective impact activities. This year The Case for Her, Diva Cup, Period Aisle (formerly Lunapads), WoMena, Days for Girls and Femme International are all a part of the Menstrual Health Hub Inner Circle. We also apply for grants for specific projects we endeavor to work on.
I see you are 11 people. Is that still up to date? How are you coping with the current situation as a team?
Danielle: Yes, that is up to date. We have always been a remote organization so not much has changed with regards to our work. With MH Day on the horizon, we are busier than ever trying to keep the menstrual health movement encouraged and inspired despite the negative effects COVID-19 is having on menstrual health.
How does the COVID-19 pandemic affect menstrual health worldwide?
Danielle: One of the major issues we see arising is that women and girls are not able to access menstrual products or materials when they need them. COVID-19 has halted many supply chain operations, leading to limitations in distribution worldwide. This is compounded by the fact that people have been hoarding products in higher-income countries, leaving those that need them most in vulnerable situations.
Economically, when there is less work, there is more poverty. The scarcity of economic resources means that what little money there is to spend will go towards other essential goods, such as food and not sanitary towels or tampons.
Another challenge is that some of the major donors in the non-profit and WASH sectors that fund international development programs on menstrual health, are starting to turn their attention away from MH and towards more urgent COVID-19 medical needs, such as PPE, testing, the construction of WASH infrastructure for regular hand-washing and even vaccination research efforts.
On your page it says your team is “leading and inspiring others”. Can you explain how you inspire others? In your team and beyond.
Danielle: Our team leads and inspires others by never stopping our support of the efforts of the many organizations working hard to make menstruation matter. We do this through thought-leadership, mentoring and pro-bono support on specific projects we are involved with. We send out a monthly Menstrual Memo, a delightful and enthusiastic newsblast capturing the latest victories from the world of menstrual health. Here we compile events, new jobs in the space and even the latest evidence-based research around menstruation's impact on gender inequality.
Personally, I spend a lot of time mentoring a wide range of different people working in this space, from social entrepreneurs just getting their feet wet, to students looking to develop their career in menstrual health. I help them with their project development, with connecting them to interesting and relevant players in the space, and however I can, really. Just depends!
What has generally changed in the last 4 years since you first started the MH Hub, terms of how periods are perceived in society?
Danielle: Periods are wildly more popular than they were when I first started the MH Hub! They're actually trending, I'd say, as there are more open conversations about them all over the world. Still, taboos and stigma persist, but I really do feel like we are very diligently working as a whole sector to strategically ensure that education about menstruation is integrated where it is needed most - whether it is in classrooms and to boys, or in commercials about period underwear. We still have a long way to go towards gender equality, but I feel confident that in my lifetime, we can beat down the menstrual taboo and instead see the menstrual cycle and menstruation as the insightful rhythmic vital sign that it is. #MenstruationMatters #ItsTimeForAction
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