Labuan Bajo: more than a tourist destination
“Raising awareness and educating women on menstrual health,doesn’t happen overnight,” is what Ririn, Perfect Fit young Menstrual Health Agent, told me during our trip to Labuan Bajo. I am currently volunteering at Perfect Fit to help monitoring and evaluation while researching further the relationship of menstrual health and the environment. I joined the Co-founder of Perfect Fit, Icha, on her work trip to talk about this with various local women.
Labuan Bajo is the gateway to Komodo National Park, a popular dive and snorkeling site for travellers and a key location for our Perfect Fit’s impact initiative. Even though tourism is on the rise, communities in Labuan Bajo are still facing challenges on education, health and their environment. Therefore, Perfect Fit started their work in the area since 2018, and is now having many representatives and educators, as well as tailors, resellers of Perfect Fit’s reusable menstrual pads.
Ririn is an active health promoter who educates communities on menstrual health, including discussing the importance of debunking taboos and stigma on the subject. Icha introduced Ririn to me as she is an experienced educator in many communities and used to be a tailor for Perfect Fit products too. Ririn grew up in Manggarai Barat, the most west regency of the island of Flores which also hosts Labuan Bajo. Currently, she educates, sells and distributes the reusable pads she made to women in Flores.
She notices that whenever she comes to speak to a group of women about menstruation, in the beginning women feel embarrassed to talk about it and laugh. However, when Ririn comes back after a while to talk to them again, they start to open up more, listen to and share stories and learn from each other. “This is very rewarding”, says Ririn, and shows the importance of normalizing menstrual health discourse for all women globally. Another Perfect Fit’s Menstrual Health Agent, Etris, added to this that she cares for women in her community and wants to help them change their mind and behaviour into a more open, knowledgeable and sustainable attitude.
In many communities, women often believe and accept what their mothers tell them, no questions asked. Often, before or right after their first period, the information they receive is practical, for example about on the product usage or culture and belief around menstruation , such as not washing your hair during your period. The lack of information on the biological process of their menstruation often made young girls afraid of what happened to their bodies. Their mother was the first, and often the only, resource on information on menstrual health and disregarding the subject as a biological process and normal situation that happened in female reproductive system, reinforces menstruation as a taboo.
Additionally, there is not much of a formal way that educates women and men in the communities I have visited on menstrual health, such as in school or at work. Women have the right to access the right information, however this is challenging as misinformation circles around the internet, explains Agnes, the vice-director of a local NGO in Labuan Bajo. The NGO she works for, Sadarsama, provides education on menstrual health and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) in local communities in Manggarai Barat together with Perfect Fit. They also offer social activities and training to support and empower women in the area. What they are doing is much needed as they cover the gap from a lack of education on menstrual health. Women such as Agnes, Ririn and Etris are key figures in fighting period poverty in Labuan Bajo by continuously spreading awareness and open up discussions on the importance of menstrual health.
This past trip has shown me that collaborative work really makes a difference in many communities. I found the influence of Perfect Fit in local communities impressive, as their commitment not only educates communities and gives them a sustainable period product alternative, they also make people feel heard and seen.
I arrived in Labuan Bajo without any expectations, and the trip taught me lessons on how women in Labuan Bajo navigate their period, how customs and myths emerge and how they sustain themselves. Raising awareness and educating communities on menstrual health is the first step to break the cycle of experiencing menstruation as a taboo and increasing knowledge on the subject. All women I spoke to during my visit validated the following message: “It takes a village to raise a child,” adding on to it: “but it requires open and thoughtful dialogue to educate them”.
(Shetalks/Fien de Ridder)