Scheaffer Okore is a global development strategist and policy advisor who advises philanthropists and INGOs working intersectionally on policy and governance using a feminist lens.
Scheaffer is an inaugural Obama Foundation Africa Fellow of 2018. She was recognised by the ONE Campaign as one of their global women of 2018. She was also voted amongst the top 100 Most influential young African in the category of governance and law, and amongst the top 100 Most influential Kenyan 2018.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your current work?
I am a global development policy and strategist whose work is intersectionally anchored in development policy, gender and governance, using a deliberate feminist lens. I work globally as an advisor to philanthropic organisations and INGOs working on various developmental issues. I’m currently the Global Advisor of Policy and Advocacy at the Women Political Leaders Organisation (Belgium/Iceland), and a Senior Strategy Advisor at SCOPE Impact (Finland). I’ve served as an Advisory Group Member Emeritus at Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers, Center for Feminist Foreign Policy and The She Tank.
You said in your keynote talk at the Global Period Poverty forum that you think menstruation should be regarded as a human rights issue. Please explain why you believe it is.
The presence of menses in the life of menstruating people, and how these and their attendant symptoms are managed, directly affects the physical wellbeing, ability to move and function in the world, participation in community life, and productivity and output of the affected people.
When we account for the fact that a clear majority of those who menstruate or experience menstrual related symptoms, illnesses and challenges, are women and girls, and thus also primary caregivers and care workers in their homes and communities, we begin to question why universal menstrual dignity has not yet been properly recognised as the urgent global human rights concern that it is.
We are alarmingly overdue in anchoring menstrual health management firmly into other publicly intersecting global agendas like education, health and wellbeing, leadership and governance, women and girls economic autonomy, poverty, climate change, hunger and more.
Menstrual dignity for all must become an essential, immovable part of every human rights conversation. Beyond universal menstrual supply provision, it is about relevant medical services, located in social and economic support at home, in schools, at work and everywhere where people who menstruate exist, whether in public or private. This means we cannot continue to talk about menstruation without talking about how menstruation is directly linked or negatively compounded by all issues that we are trying to solve globally, regionally and nationally.
How do you think menstrual shame/taboo have shaped our approach to periods?
Shame and stigma rob women, girls and all people who menstruate, of the right to share their own menstrual experiences, or even wider reproductive health experiences in general.
We rarely share what it’s like to struggle with hormonal imbalances caused by contraceptives, or even the vast and often debilitating symptoms of menopause. Furthermore, shame and stigma continue to deny open, public discussions, and thus necessary solutions, towards the excruciating pain of menstrual cramps and other symptoms including migraines, gastrointestinal challenges, the existence of conditions like endometriosis and adenomyosis, and even related mental health challenges.
Other contributors to this sorry state include the lack of cisgender male allies especially at decision-maker and influencer levels, long unimplemented menstrual health and management policies, deep failures of government and global funding for menstrual health management, and the segregated, siloed work being done in menstrual health nationally, regionally and globally.
How do you think shame/taboo dictated what period products we use, and how we dispose of them?
Shame and stigma deny women, girls and all people who menstruate the ability to have a choice when it comes to period products. Firstly there are so many people who do not even have the luxury of choosing a quality manufactured product. People use what they’re given and what is available within their context, based on economic access, access to water and sanitation facilities, cultural and religious beliefs and other factors, which result in limited options relative to what their bodies actually need.
This is a huge issue because periods are not a one-size-fits-all matter. Someone might need a different product when at home, or travelling, or standing for a long time, or even swimming or doing other athletic or strenuous physical activities, and more.So many people globally have nothing, and are thus stuck at home, or using leaves, cloth rags, and other make-shift solutions.
In addition, because we’re socialised to doubt and disbelieve our own bodies, we may not be sure when our bodies are warning us against a substandard period product. So we hide and bury ourselves in harmful silence even when our bodies truly know what works and what doesn’t.
Beyond this, so many of us have been to health care workers who told us that menstrual related issues, are all “normal” and just “need to be managed at home”. So many folks who menstruate then become convinced that it is normal to soldier through this issue, when they are actually suffering profoundly.
What part have the large period product manufacturers played in shaping this taboo?
Some period product manufacturers have taken advantage of the blanket silence that exists as a result of shame and stigma to sell, distribute and manufacture substandard period products. These tend to be distributed more in less resourced parts of the world, and thus become harmful to the majority of Global South women, girls and people who menstruate.
This is why it’s critical to ensure we urgently bring menstrual dignity to the forefront of the global agenda, so we can start holding period manufacturers accountable for the provision of sub-standard period products. Any disparities in sanitary product quality point directly to racial inequity as a lead contributor to menstrual indignity globally.
Can you tell us about how the #myalwaysexperience started and why?
The story began in early 2019, when Kenyan women got tired of silence around the issues they were facing while using a particular large manufacturer’s product, and found that this was actually a widespread issue faced by hundreds of thousands across Africa and even extending into the Middle East and elsewhere. A few more details can be found here or here.
What is your hope for the future of all those who menstruate?
My hope is that menstrual dignity for all of us to restore play, agency, health, voice and visibility especially for women, girls and gender-non-conforming people, who are so often violated and marginalised because of periods, so that they don’t shrink or hide during the times their bodies are experiencing a normal biological process or changing. I’d love for little girls and gender-non-conforming young ones to learn about their bodies in marvellous language that embraces, harnesses and delights in their limitless spirits.
My hope is that period bullying, wilful ignorance and vicious harassment masquerading as banter stops immediately. I want us all to unlearn the fear-filled ways in which we talk about periods and period blood.
Lastly, I hope we can all move with critical urgency, in collaboration and into immediate action, to end period indignity by realising that we cannot talk about sports, or sustainable cities, climate change, zero hunger, reduced inequities, decent work, economic growth, gender equity, partnership for the Global Goals, and so much more, without talking about MENSTRUAL HEALTH FOR ALL.