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Hot Soroptimist Womens Conference

On the hottest day of the year attendees of the Soroptimist International London Chilterns Region Conference had their thoughts provoked by two inspirational speakers Janet Fyle MBE Policy Adviser at the Royal College of Midwives and Ruby Raut CEO and Co-founder of WUKA Periodwear

The focus this year on mental health #SoroptimistThinkOnIt was covered by both of these speakers. They spoke about the impact on women and girls’ mental health from the taboos around having children and menstruation. The physical abuse of female genital mutilation (FGM) covered by Janet has serious mental health effects too. The topics covered at this conference show yet again that Soroptimists are not afraid to tackle difficult subjects.

The title of Janet’s presentation was – The hidden harms – she split it into 2 parts – Mental Health – its effects on women and families from pregnancy to post birth and FGM – its physical and psychological impact throughout the lives of victims. Janet was from Sierra Leone originally, She is a qualified midwife and still practises 1 day a month to keep in touch.

There are some notes here from Janet’s presentation and the materials are available to download and from the bottom of this page.

Perinatal Mental Health: Behind closed doors are millions of women struggling silently, suffering from mental health turmoil relating to the birth of a child. The deficiency in identifying, providing care and support cost us dear as a society and shames us all. Perinatal mental illnesses are a major public health issue and exerts a toll on the lives of women & families. Up to 20% of women develop a mental health problem during pregnancy or within 2 years of giving birth. Major cause of death in women during pregnancy and up to 2 years after post birth. Suicide is the leading cause of direct death for women during pregnancy and in the 2 years after giving birth. Long term health and psychological impact and consequences on the child/children. “They were more concerned about the baby and not me as the mother” “Everyone asked how I was coping, but no one had any help they could offer, so it was pointless”  3rd year student midwife – “Mental health is briefly mentioned, but physical health is given far more priority” Postnatal depression was not something covered in my training”. Pregnancy related depression, anxiety and psychosis cost society about £8.1 billion for each one-year cohort of births – an extra  £10,000 for  every baby born in the UK. The  greatest costs – human cost & impact on children. Compared to spending £280 million a year to bring the care  to  recommended  national  standards the cost to the public sector of perinatal mental health problems is 5 times the cost of improving services.

FGM – Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) remains a global problem. An estimated 200 million women and girls in approximately 30 countries (mainly in Africa) are living with its consequences of FGM. In the UK, it is estimated that over 80,000 girls are at risk and 200,000 women are living with FGM. Year end data 2018 showed girls under the age of 5 & 8 have undergone FGM in the UK. The 6 Feb is the UN International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation The goal is to end FGM in the UK by 2030. There were lots of questions from the floor which Janet answered easily – she has such a depth of knowledge and expertise in her field. Janet is pictured here being offered the Soroptimist hand of friendship by St Albans Soroptimist Club President Katherine Clark. Janet asked that the cheque for her speaker fee go to a charity founded by Hawa Sesay “Working to eradicate FGM around the world”.

Ruby Raut’s company WUKA stands for Wake Up Kick Ass – and that is just what she’s doing! She says WUKA is “period positive”. She is a passionate environmental scientist who combines her scientific knowledge and passion for lean startup methodology to solve the problems that surround disposable menstrual products. WUKA periodwear is comfortable and washable. Ruby lives in St Albans and this year she has been winning lots of well deserved awards for her entrepreneurship. When you hear this confident successful woman speak you are stunned when she tells you her journey to where she is now. Her goal when she was a child was simply to beat the boys! She came to the UK from Nepal 9 years ago. She started her periods in Nepal where it is called “Nachune” meaning “untouchable” – although it is meant to be illegal women and girls are still sent to cowsheds or menstrual huts when they menstruate, they are not allowed to touch food/water or other people. On Ruby’s first period she was sent to her Aunt’s for 7 days, given rags by her Mum plus a bowl and a glass. Girls in countries like Nepal miss school because of the communal toilets at school giving no privacy and meaning that everyone knows when you menstruate. Underwear that doesn’t fit so any type of pad shifts around and leaks. When Ruby came to the UK she couldn’t believe the amount of choice of sanitary products in supermarkets and the fact that none of them are recyclable! She did an Environmental Science degree with the Open University and couldn’t believe the culture of waste in the Western world – in the UK 4.3 million pads/tampons are flushed down the toilet every day and 200 thousand tonnes go to landfill every year! 4 years ago she was shocked to learn about period poverty in the UK…. All of this gave her the idea for her new product. She designed, made samples, carried out a survey showing that 72% of women were unhappy with their sanitary wear. She started with 30 random volunteers from Facebook to trial her sample products. Then she raised £7,000 of funding from online Kickstarter in 2 weeks – the goal was to produce comfortable and ecofriendly products. WUKA now has 13,000 customers. The business is based in St Albans. In 18 months more than 2 million tampons/pads haven’t gone to landfill. Ruby wants everyone to switch to reusable pads or cups (another environmentally friendly alternative). She is looking to develop products for incontinence next. There is a 20% tax on WUKA Periodwear because they are seen as underwear – Soroptimists should be able to help with the campaign for zero tax on all sanitary wear. Ruby is launching a back to school pack, a starter kit, working on a government tender and raising awareness as she did at this conference! This is one busy inspirational lady and we are sure to hear more about her in the future! #EndPeriodShame @WUKAwear Ruby also declined her speaker fee and we will make a donation to the new Soroptimist Federation Project which will be launched in October “Empowering Women in Nepal” – which will be in partnership with ChoraChori  Ruby is pictured at the top delivering her presentation and above with Helen Byrne, Region Membership Officer (l) and Katherine Clark, St Albans President (r). Katherine introduced us to Ruby and Helen chaired the afternoon session. This is one busy inspirational WUKA lady and we are sure to hear more about her in the future! 

Both of our powerful women  speakers were presented with the book “Women and Power” by Mary Beard – we thought an appropriate thank you gift for both of them which we are sure they will enjoy reading.

At the beginning of the day Regional Secretary Rita Beaumount led us efficiently through our Soroptimist business – this included being presenting Kathleen Martin with a plant to celebrate her recognition in the Queen’s Birthday Honours this year – please see this news item for more details Kathleen is pictured here in the centre with Helen Byrne Regional Membership Officer (l) and Rita Beaumont (r).

In the morning and afternoon sessions we asked to hear from the Clubs represented about projects that their Clubs are proud of – these are sessions that is always inspiring and this was no exception! SI Aylesbury and District – 4 grants this year to girls doing engineering at university or apprenticeships,SI Bedford – supporting the “We Care” library in Jamaica, knitting twiddlemuffs for dementure patients and giving grants to female students at Bedford College, SI Hertford and District – language support for Herts Welcome Syrian Families there is an issue with the girls and school holidays, SI High Wycombe and District – involving prospective Members in planning future projects to include making High Wycombe a dementia friendly town and helping girls transition from social care to the real world, SI Central and South West London – a literacy project with their friendship link in Kiev and selling Ukrainian dolls made by the girls, SI Milton Keynes – raised money from a sewathon to refurbish a room at the YWCA, SI St Albans and District–  have been Toilet Twinning loos slowly over several years – now 12 loos have been twinned so they are aiming to make St Albans a Toilet Twinned City , SI Slough Windsor and Maindenhead – now has a friendship link with SI Kathmandu in Nepal and is sponsoring a female student to study law, SI Thames Valley – continues the great work of the Kori Project in Sierra Leone with new toilets for the library, a women’s work room (which will be used to train the young women who missed out on education during the ebola crisis) , birthing packs, washable sanitary towels, knitted baby clothing, unwanted UK garden equipment and more…. WOW!!

The St Albans Soroptimists did a great job looking after everyone’s needs – providing refreshments to keep all of the conference attendees hydrated and sated with delicious food so they were able to actively participate through the whole day.

A massive thanks to everyone who made the day such a great success in spite of the heat! Our next Regional meetings/conferences are in London on 12 Oct and 30 Nov so put in your diaries now

Janet Fyle’s presentation is available to download here:

JanetFyleRCMSoroptimist_290619 final

Janet brought hard copies (1 per Club) of the document “Every mother must get the help they need” – which can be downloaded here

On the day we were unable to watch the video on page 27 where the Duchess of Cambridge speaks out on motherhood, mental health awareness – so you can view it here (just skip the advert at the start)

There were three hard hitting animated short films about FGM – we watched the first one – the links to all three are provided here: