PEOPLE TO WATCH

How These Jamaican Women Are using Digital Platforms to make a Difference

What do you do when you’re passionate about a cause that no-one else seem to care about? Well if you’re anything like our Digital Change Agent Nominees you build your own digital platforms that you use to start making a difference

Who runs the world? Well given the state of it clearly not girls, but our digital change agent nominees are hell bent on changing that. How? Well, by first championing causes that make life just that little bit better for women and girls around the world.  Shelly’s campaign to give women access to reproductive health products, care and rights as well as Sasha’s campaign to educate girls are foundational movements which will improve chances of survival as well as future economic success.

The best thing about their activism is these sisters are doing it for themselves. Not only are they not asking permission, they aren’t waiting for anybody to give them the space to talk about the causes they are passionate about either. 

What these savvy ladies have done is put digital platforms to better use by creating their own soapboxes on which to talk about and seek support for their causes. It has proven fruitful too, gaining them well deserved recognition and most importantly the ground swell of support they need to continue moving those causes forward. 

Call them social justice warriors if you will, their efforts to bring awareness to issues surrounding period poverty, reproductive rights and  the education of  black girls is making a world of difference in very real lives. They have not just raised their voices, but awareness,  support and money to be able to act. 

Shelly-Ann Weeks

Founder – Her Flow Foundation

Did you know that inna big big 2019 there are places where women are still dying because of something as natural as their periods?  Yeah, there are still countries where the superstition surrounding periods are so ridiculously pervasive as to convince people that a woman on her period can cause natural catastrophes such as crop failures.

You did? Well you’re a better global citizen than I am because before Shelly’s period awareness campaign I was oblivious to the severity of any of this. What’s more I was rather embarrassingly unaware that in Jamaica there are women and girls who do not have access to sanitary products such as pads. As a result they are missing out on employment and education.

There has been a worldwide movement to combat the stigma and shame associated with periods lead by international Organizations such as the United Nations and more localized groups such as the Her Flow Foundation, a social enterprise organization started by Shelly-Ann Weeks in an effort to address this situation. The organization also tackles issues  around women’s reproductive health and rights. The message is simple, periods are natural and as such no woman or girl should suffer  because of it.  

Even before formalizing the foundation Shelly had been busy with several initiatives under the Her Flow banner, declaring October Period Awareness Month locally and October 24th Period Awareness Day.

Thanks to a grant from the US Embassy, she travels across the island on a period education school tour in preparatory/primary and high schools. On these tours she talks to  girls and boys about periods, doing demonstrations on how to use period products and general conversations about how to have healthier periods.

There are also family events like period parties which are discussion forums for parents and their girls staged at different locations around the island.

In October 2018 Shelly successfully launched the inaugural Healthy Pelvis Conference which is another discussion forum where women with reproductive issues are given the opportunity to have open and honest discussions with medical experts.

Shelly has used her social media platform and website to make a lot of noise and bring a lot of attention to a cause not often spoken about locally. Through her efforts Jamaica has effectively entered what is a very vocal and active global conversation not just about periods but about creating safe spaces for women who are often among the most vulnerable societal groups.

And she nah stop mek bare nize eida, In 2019 Shelly will be continuing her efforts, launching her Live Safe College Tour in April of this year focusing primarily on Sexuality, Reproductive Rights, and Period Awareness. In the summer she will be undertaking what she calls a “massive” period party  with a particular focus on educating fathers on topics such as body positivity, puberty, hygiene and healthy periods. She will also be continuing her Period Month activities in October.

Sasha Matthews

 Bené Scarves

It’s a very human thing to be so impassioned about circumstances as to be moved to action, even when you’re not being directly affected. Even when the circumstances are so far removed from your lived experience you’d have to take a plane to confront it.

Sasha is one part of the dynamic duo behind the Bené Initiave. A social enterprise created to support the education of impoverished girls from Ghana to Jamaica.  The genesis of this movement started back in 2011 when Sasha’s business partner Michelle went on a trip to Ghana and fell in love with the young girls she met. She found that these girls even with little in the way of material possession were overwhelmingly rich in spirit.  Within two years of having what was to be a life changing experience Michelle and Sasha formed and launched the Bené Scarves.

Bené Scarves, is a clothing company intended to provide: 

an education to girls in Ghana by sponsoring tuition, books, supplies and the uniforms for the girls to continue their education and fulfill their dreams.

Sasha understanding the foundational importance of an education having come from a small state like Jamaica expanded the initiave to now include girls from impoverished communities in Jamaica. According to her, Bené is supporting Jamaican children: 

through community initiatives and education or whatever other support we can give that’ll make an impact.

The business model  is so simple it even shows up  in the tagline “buy a scarf. educate a girl.” Purchasing one of these beautiful 100% silk scarves means you’re supporting the company’s efforts to provide 5 girls with a year’s worth of education.

Each scarf is beautifully designed with custom prints named after each girl the initiative supports, when you wear it the company wants you to feel as if you are a

“part of this larger community of women that stand for other women & you’re affirmed that you truly are making a difference by investing in the education of our girls.”

Kadia Francis
About author

I am a blogger and podcaster, using my platforms to tell the story of Jamaicans in the tech and digital space.
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