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May 13, 2019 | by  | in Features Interview |
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Body with Olie Body

I arrived a little too early and decided to have a hot chocolate while I waited. As a man, I was nervous and intimidated to have a conversation with Olie. Sitting somewhere in between, ‘tampons and pads don’t make me queasy’ and ‘I have not the slightest clue what period poverty is’, I was ready to learn.

 

At the age of 15, Olie Body watched from her bedroom window as trees were ripped from her family farm and burned.   On one hand, water would now be saved by being able to implement a new irrigation system, but on the other, the majority of the ecosystem was destroyed. A turning point in the life of a young woman who would evaluate this event for the rest of her life.

 

Providing 100% clean water is a basic human right that most New Zealand citizens take for granted. Whilst this was problem solving, Olie became both irritated and fascinated at the use of insular problem solving. Although more clean water saved, the wildlife and their habitat around them was destroyed. The local council had fixed one issue and dismissed any possible consequences their actions may have taken. Our everyday actions have consequences, but we often don’t realise that they can muck up a whole lot of things while synonymously benefitting us.

 

If you’re allergic to spices, you’ve probably never had an idea that started with a flight to India. 19 year old Olie Body, carrying nothing but a toothbrush, toiletries and ideas based on combating insular problem solving, travelled to West Bengal; an action which would change New Zealand forever. How?

 

While in West Bengal, Olie noticed that a large number of young women were living without proper menstrual products. Similar to the issue on her family farm  , Olie wanted to deliver what she believed to be a basic human right to the young women in this community, but, do it right. She teamed up with a local nurse to deliver menstrual kits to girls around the age of 13. In this community, there  was a large chance that if a young woman does not have proper access to menstrual products when they first get their period, they will discontinue their education.

In most cases, someone’s race, gender or sexual orientation often plays a large part in their exclusion from school, whether it be their choice or not. My hot chocolate went cold and the marshmallows re-solidified as I struggled to get my head around the barrier the body created.

 

“You shouldn’t be held back because you’ve been born with a mighty pair of ovaries”.

Olie was absolutely correct in explaining to me that the body had not created a barrier, rather our society created barriers around the body.

 

At that moment, she perfect defined what period poverty was. As someone who had not heard of the word prior to 2017, I was shocked to find out it affected many young women in Aotearoa. Defined as the inability or difficulty in purchasing menstrual products, one third of young women in secondary school/university currently live through period poverty.

Olie was flipping this term on its head, but there was an overlap to her previous experience on the farm.  When she began supplying menstrual products, the tears of joy that followed from these young women would have it’s own insular consequence. The patriarchy intervened, and long story short, Olie was forced to problem solve outside of the box.

 

Following her arrival back to New Zealand, Olie enrolled at Massey University where she hit inspiration to form  Wā Collective.
“I saw the big old bowl of condoms, but thought, why isn’t there a bowl of menstrual products there too?”

Combatting period poverty sustainably is  Wā Collective’s mission for women around the world. Started here in Wellington, they partnered with SA’s like VUWSA and MAWSA to make their menstrual cups more accessible. The menstrual cup is made out of ethical silicone and packaged in a compostable and recyclable, reusable packaging. . Wā Cups are environmentally friendly and last up to ten years, which is longer than any condoms expiry date. So many things can change in the space of ten years, but knowing that your menstrual cup is still a sturdy reliant is a relief for many young women.

 

It could save you a fuck load of money, because you don’t have to do midnight runs to the local Night’n’Day or texting your flatmate asking them if you can borrow a tampon. Imagine not having that experience for like 10 years.

 

Condoms cost me $12 for a pack of 10. My first box, is still half finished somewhere in a box, expired and collecting dust. The only similarity I see between condoms and menstrual products, are the taboo culture that surrounds the purchasing of these products.

 

The difference is the price of a tampon/pad is a financial barrier for young women around the world, and it stops them participating in life fully.

I would have to use a condom, 7 times a day, for the whole year for it to be a financial barrier for me.

 

After my hot chocolate was stone cold, Olie shed more light on WāCollective, the period poverty women face daily and her plans for the next year. The human body is something we have for our entire lives, but we learn our way around it the slowest. The parts we make taboo early on will never truly become familiar to us until we understand how others use them.

 

From small family farm to Bengal and back to NZ, I can’t simply put her or her social enterprise into words that would do her mission justice. Go check out the @wa.collective, making tampons and pads the alternative.

 

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