We're Opening The Unmentionables Resource Center in Athens!
Kaleigh Heard, The Unmentionables Co-Founder
For the past few months we’ve been keeping a secret…
Just last week, I was in a pharmacy here in the small-town Connecticut, looking to purchase about 20 contraceptive options to stock our contraception education kits. And I was mortified. I’m a highly-educated Canadian woman who has had lifelong exposure to sexual and reproductive health education, and I am now a sexual health educator and advocate yet there is nothing more mortifying than walking up to the pharmacy check-out with a bunch of contraceptive options in hand. I still feel the need to casually tell the cashier that I’m an educator and these aren’t for me.
But what if they were? Why is there still so much shame and secrecy and lack of confidence around protecting yourself against the very adult, very long-term consequences of unprotected sex? Why do women still hate going into the pharmacy to pick up a box of feminine hygiene products? Why do we still need tissue paper on top of our purchases when we go get underwear or a bra?
The same goes for sexual and reproductive health education. To this day, many individuals lack sexual and reproductive health education, a VITAL piece of the puzzle when it comes to protecting oneself against unhygienic practices, unhealthy relationships, and unintended consequences. Yet, there is a fear and embarrassment experienced when someone wants or needs to access that information and support.
These conditions, fear, and embarrassment are exacerbated amongst forcibly displaced communities. Around the world today, undergarments and feminine hygiene products are provided in open distributions alongside other non-food items. Pick up your new sweatshirt, get a pack of pads from the same guy. On top of that, there is no choice involved. Have a heavy flow? Well, best of luck with these pantyliners. Want a condom? They’ll be difficult to find. Want to access information on your sexual and reproductive health? There might be someone available to talk to you in a couple weeks.
If there are a few things we value more than anything else at The Unmentionables, its trust, consistency, and human centric design. Where undergarments, feminine hygiene products, and sexual health products are concerned we all know how uncomfortable it is to access these products. We can’t imagine trying to access them in public, in front of strangers, or in environments where you don’t trust the people around you to give you safe, consistent, and private information about your wellbeing. We can’t imagine it, so why should a refugee?
Since July when we first launched our education programs we’ve been thrilled by the feedback and the sense of relief that access to sexual and reproductive health information has brought to the displaced community in Greece. We’ve heard horrific stories of their journeys, of their attempts to access these products and education in the past. Over the past month we have been running focus groups and hearing even more: women noting that they “need this education to protect themselves” from the long-lasting effects of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy, as well as sexual and gender based violence, and men noting that this information is “very, very important” to their wellbeing. But they’ve also noted what they don’t know. Many have noted being taught about the horrific effects of HIV/AIDS and have retained that information, but have no further knowledge of sexually transmitted infections, healthy and unhealthy relationships, menstrual health processes, or their contraceptive options.
With this feedback, we have created The Unmentionables Resource Center in Athens, Greece. This centre will provide the safe, consistent sexual and reproductive education and care to the displaced community, through trustworthy staff and the integration of leaders from the refugee community. Starting in January, we will train 5 sexual and reproductive health educators from the refugee community to teach and deliver this information to their own communities, staffing our space for a fair wage. And we will provide a free shop, entirely dedicated to the products that are awkward to access in public—undergarments, feminine hygiene products, and sexual health products—through our Dignity Dollars system, ensuring each and every one of our shoppers has the dignity of choice. This space will also house our UnExposed photography program, with a new class of students beginning in January, and a consultation space staffed by medical professionals from partner organizations.
We are so excited to create a long-term, consistent, and safe solution for the displaced community to access these vital products and programs. However, we need your help! The shelves aren’t going to stock themselves! Make a purchase from the Dignity Warehouse or through our Needslist to help stock our free shop or provide the necessities of our education programs! In the process you will be providing dignity and empowerment to a whole community.