An interview with Christine Glidden
I recently had coffee with Christine Glidden, founder and director of 501(c)(3) non-profit Women To Be. Since 2014, Women To Be has been bringing dignity to women living in poverty by supplying them with reusable sanitary products. In just a moment I’ll share more about her project – where it’s been and where it’s going. Christine and I met shortly before I left for Ghana in October 2015, and stayed in touch during the nine months I was there. Christine and I recognized each other as kindred spirits in our desire to do what we can to improve the lives of people in developing countries, and we knew we needed to meet up when I got back to the U.S..
Christine had recently returned from a humanitarian outreach in Nepal. As I described my time in Ghana and she talked about her adventures in Nepal, we imagined that our conversation was the most eavesdropped-on in the café! I have to give it to Christine though – I really feel that five weeks of traveling from north to south in Nepal under incredibly challenging circumstances made my time in Ghana sound like a walk in the park!
And WHY would Christine put herself in these situations, you ask? This is a woman on a mission – to bring dignity and freedom to girls and women in developing countries by supplying them with washable and reusable sanitary products and providing education about their bodies. Christine made two trips to Nepal, in 2014 and 2015, where she and her assistants and guides distributed 1600 “kits” of sanitary products to women in remote, impoverished villages. In just a week’s time from this writing, she’s off again – this time to Guatemala, where she’ll be handing out 500 kits as part of an overall program to empower women through education about menstruation, women’s health, and giving women choice about pregnancy.
Women in developed countries give managing their menstrual period little thought – we’ve got literally an aisle-full of choices of sanitary products at the supermarket. In poor countries like Nepal or Guatemala or Ghana – or close to half of the world’s population all told – women either have no access to, or can’t afford to buy, disposable sanitary products. With no way of dealing with her monthly flow, a girl misses days of school each month, every month and too often drops out, relegating her to a life of dependence and disempowerment. A girl who has pads, stays in school and learns a skill. She marries later and has few children. Women and girls will use anything they can find during their period – even leaves or corn husks – and may end up with painful infections. This becomes an additional challenge in areas with little available medical care.
I asked Christine to describe what’s most important to her about Women To Be and the mission of the organization. “I just feel so strongly about freedom – especially women’s freedom. Something that infuriates me – or maybe I should say gives me a great sense of indignity – is that women and girls aren’t given the same chances for freedom and success that men are. For such a small thing as a square of cotton can keep a girl in school and yet, it is nowhere on any political agenda. Why is that? Girls and women are not fully appreciated for the tremendous breadth of ability and depth of understanding and vastness of the contribution they make to life – for themselves and their communities and for ‘their man’ – the man in their orbit, husband or romantic partner. Bringing forth life on a fundamental level – without asking for much or for reciprocity. Girls are the greatest untapped resource ever known to humankind. Give every girl a skill and the prospect of a job and all the girls and women currently missing 3-5 days per month will change the economic landscape of the world.”
I bet any middle aged woman reading this article can remember “the movie” shown in fifth grade – the girls got “the movie” while the boys all went off to the gym for their “puberty talk” with the male gym teacher. I can still remember feeling utterly embarrassed hearing how girls long ago had to use old pieces of cloth during their period, while (lucky us) had Kotex! I don’t know about you all, but my mom had little to share about the nuts and bolts of menstruation because honestly, she didn’t understand it herself. My elder sisters told me they had no education before their periods started and believed they were bleeding to death. While “sex ed” may be slightly more advanced in the U.S. these days, in the developing world there’s still a lack of education about menstruation and how the monthly cycle relates to pregnancy.
Women To Be is making sure the girls and women who receive the sanitary products also participate in education about their bodies and reproductive health. The educational part of the program was very well received in Nepal – albeit with lots of giggles and bashful expressions! Girls and women everywhere have a right to understand their bodies and to make choices based on knowledge. Christine delivered a sex ed class to women who were middle-aged mothers who had no idea how or why they bled each month nor how a fetus sits in its mother’s womb.
I asked Christine about her take-home message from time spent in Nepal, and she replied, “we put women on an even playing field – now they can ‘show up’ – and do their work; they can ‘show up’ and go to school. At least this gets them there. Delivering these kits to women and girls in these remote and tough environments gives a message to them that there’s this whole world of other women out there that cares about them. Even if they don’t know our names or what we look like or where we live – they know we care about them and their success in life. I would always tell them that my friends at home care about YOU and your success. That’s the one piece of information I would always impart to them, they are not alone.”
2017 is going to bring another opportunity to share this care with women in the third world, when Women To Be and my newly-formed non-profit organization, Healthy Villages, team up on a project in Ghana. Our aim is to manufacture in-country and distribute 3000 bags full of what we’re tentatively calling “girl gear” – washable sanitary pads and undies, plus a pocket calendar for keeping track of their periods – to girls and women in villages in the poorest parts of the country. We aim to have a humanitarian healthcare mission as part of our project, to provide the educational piece and women’s wellness exams.
Please contact us if you’re interested in volunteering your time as a women’s health provider and educator, or donating toward the project costs. Here’s contact information:
Sara Corry – Healthy Villages Inc. – email@example.com
About the Author
Sara Corry, aka Abena Sara lives in the Eastern Region of Ghana, West Africa, close to the capital city, Accra. Tropical Africa is feeling like home now after nearly 30 years as a desert dweller! When not involved in business development, she can be found with camera in hand trying to photograph the beautiful native bird life. She writes a blog about daily life in Ghana, and is a contributor to a website devoted to wildlife conservation in Africa. She has a passion for travel and would jump on a plane to almost anywhere at a moment’s notice!