Fresh approach to women’s liberation: Femme opens up spaces for young women

With youth empowerment, gender equality, health education and combatting illiteracy at the core of what they do, Kim Windvogel, Kelly-Eve Koopman and Loren Loubser started Femme — Freedom of Education Motivates Empowerment.

Founded in 2014, the team initially worked in collaboration with Transnet’s Teenage Health Programme to run workshops for schoolgirls throughout the Western Cape. Now they are working on a campaign with the nonprofit organisation Happy With A Purpose and Mina on the one million Mina campaign to distribute a million menstrual cups to schools and first-year university students, enabling them to attend classes uninterrupted.

“We believe that this should be a basic human right … and we knew that something had to be done,” says the Cape Town-based collective.

The cup is made from medical grade silicone and is inserted into the vagina to collect blood, instead of absorbing it as conventional tampons and pads do.

“It is reusable and lasts for five years, which means learners do not have to purchase sanitary products for five years,” the team explains.

Launching Femme was a leap of faith: “It is a great achievement for us to have been able to leave our bosses and become an independent brand that can grow.”

There have been obstacles but the team believes the risk was well worth it.

“One of the biggest challenges has been gaining funding to help the business grow to the heights we have envisioned. In terms of our programme, we constantly face challenges related to social taboos or around what is ‘acceptable’ or ‘appropriate’ for womxn to learn and talk about in schools. Schools preach abstinence and boxes of categorising womxn and sexuality. We needed to adapt our approach to be factual but also engaging with what is really happening in our bodies, to our bodies — and how we should deal with it.”

The team say they have reached more than 2 000 young women, giving them knowledge about their bodies. They say their workshops create safe spaces for crucial conversations, particularly those that parents and teachers find difficult to discuss with girls.

“We have a facilitating model that we are so proud of. It is engaged on many levels with all, it has many elements of each of our three personalities,” says Femme. “We helped learners engage in their own opinions and to grow and to see what is true or false, as well as learning about risks.”

The team has incorporated the arts and performance in their workshops as a way to facilitate communication so that participants can express feelings and opinions.

They are now working on developing their programmes and the first project is manuals for literacy workshops.

“The writing workshop [will] teach high school learners how to write stories for primary school learners who do not have access to reading material. In this way we can encourage and develop young, local writing talent to celebrate homegrown stories.”

They plan to launch the literacy project next year with film director Sarah Summers and project manager Fuzlin Esau.

Femme’s second initiative is a music project that will focus on the history of music and musicians’ responsibility to reflect the times they live in.

“We aim to teach them how to write down their experiences in the form of their own lyrics and music and also teaching them the importance of collaboration.”

Over and above the workshops, the team’s vision is to deal with violence against women. “There is a revolution happening and it is young, it is black and it is spearheaded by womxn. Our vision is that we really start spreading this wave of militant consciousness throughout the youth in our rural areas and our disenfranchised urban landscapes.”

•Follow @femmeproject on Facebook

•Follow Kim Windvogel on Twitter on @BlazingEmpress; Kelly-Eve Koopman on @Kelly_Eve_K

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