Updated: Jul 9, 2018
As a facilitator of girls’ circles specifically aimed at offering space for discussions related to emotions, body awareness, puberty and menstruation, I love seeing girls changing the culture around the path to womanhood. Shifting the narrative from shame to celebration and offering openness and understanding of this threshold, girl circles allow participants to joyfully embrace this new stage in life. When life’s transitions are welcomed and the female body is accepted in a positive and empowered way, young people feel honoured and supported.
Traditionally humans acknowledged five major initiation rites: birth, adulthood, marriage, eldership and ancestorship. Rites of passage acknowledging these thresholds can be commonly found throughout indigenous cultures, providing a system that creates an enduring unity in these communities. Western culture still acknowledges birth, marriage and death, however, a child starting the journey to adulthood at puberty and an adult entering his/her senior years, are both areas of life that happen without ceremony or celebration in contemporary society. My work explores the belief that the breakdown in community and the increased levels of child anxiety can be addressed by honouring children and their families at the tender moment of changing from child to teen.
In some indigenous cultures there is a belief that the creative power of the womb space should be venerated. Activist, Pat McCabe, explains that in her American Diné culture the womb of a woman connects to the womb of the cosmos. During menstruation, or in McCabe’s words, ‘Moontime’, women have the ability to connect and receive information from the Earth. In Diné tradition menstruation was a time for women to rest and nourish their intuition. Women slept with their heads to the centre of a lodge sharing communal dreams that inspired key messages for their communities.
Writer and mentor Gail Burkett is an advocate for the return of rites of passage in modern culture believing that these key moments in life need to be witnessed and celebrated. Through her life spiral, Burkett suggests that there are nine passages for women and girls. Burkett maintains that in modern life we have lost the language of these rites and, as most adults were not initiated at the time of these physical and emotional transformations common to all humans, we are bereft of traditions.
In my experience parents are not talking enough to their daughters about this special phase and no doubt this is because we do not know how. Instead of puberty being a time of fear and confusion, in our girl circles we embrace the changes, practise accepting the flow of life and mark this magical threshold with celebration. I encourage the girls to talk to their parents and we find ways in which these discussions can be initiated.
DeAnna L’am has been at the forefront of menstrual empowerment since the 1990s. L’am asserts that girls experiencing the onset of menarche have a tendency to lose their confidence due to the taboo associated with menstruation. This is a phenomenon I have witnessed as a teacher and I believe encouraging girls and women to meet and discuss all aspects of life in a safe, loving space is an empowering gift.
In April 2016 Newsweek’s front cover focused on menstruation for the first time in an article that stated ‘the period is one of the most ignored human rights issues around the globe—affecting everything from education and economics to the environment and public health.’ There are debates surrounding the unfair taxation of menstrual merchandising, the health and environmental dangers of certain sanitary products and the lack of open discussion. By focusing on young people’s first experience of menarche and ensuring this is a moment of celebration, removed from notions of taboo, communities are not only honouring their adolescents, they are also turning the tide on the suppression of women and the inequalities of our systems.
Sounds like a revolution!
Journey of Young Women, is training mentors all over the world so that girl circles can be offered everywhere allowing young people to thrive. Her vision is that we have a girl circle in every neighbourhood. Get in touch if you would like to know more.
What next – how do we help the boys?
Dr Christina Northrup – Beautiful Girl (5+)
Lucy Pearce - Reaching for the Moon (9+)
Rachael Hertogs - Menarche A Journey into Womanhood: A mums and girls guide to celebrating her first period
L’am, DeAnna - Coming Of Age - Prevent Girls' Shut Down At Puberty.
Gail Burkett - Nine Passages for Women and Girls, Ceremonies and Stories of Transformation.
Anita Diamant - The Red Tent.
Alexandra Pope - The Women’s Quest
Train to become a mentor - www.journeyofyoungwomen.org