Monthly Archives: January 2022

The Campus Witches in Turkey: “Menstrual Products Are Essential”

Turkish women protesting in pink witch hats with symbolic blood-stained cloth

Laurie and Debbie say:

Elmas Topcii, writing at DW, a German news site, brings us the story of the Campus Witches, a group of extremely brave women in Izmir, Turkey, who are focusing on a particular effect of the country’s extreme inflation: tampons and sanitary pads.

The Witches, who wear bright pink witch hats, have been demonstrating around issues that affect girls and women, primarily in university and college settings.

In recent months, they have particularly campaigned against the drastic rise of the cost of sanitary products and called for the 18% tax on such items to be abolished. They say that since menstruation is natural, sanitary products are not a luxury but essential.

Therefore, they think they should be provided for free by the state. In the meantime, they have stepped up initiatives such as solidarity boxes in women’s toilets and other public spaces where people can donate tampons and pads for those who cannot afford them.

To put this in context, sanitary products are subject to sales tax in vast swaths of the world. Leah Rodriguez wrote about this for Global Citizen last June. Her article is rich with horrifying statistics:

Period products are subject to a state sales tax in 30 of the 50 US states despite efforts to ban the tax country-wide.  

Across the European Union, most countries are not allowed to create zero-rated value-added taxes on period products and have a 5% minimum tampon tax. The tampon tax is as high as 20% in 10 member countries but it will be eliminated across the member states in 2022. However, some countries in the EU have managed to reduce or eliminate the tampon tax sooner.

According to Rodriguez, this is an international cause, and her article demonstrates that it is needed in much of the world. Nonetheless, demonstrating about the cost of menstruation in Turkey is different from doing the same thing in Germany or many parts of the United States. Tolcii’s article about the Turkish protestors says “For many of their compatriots, the subject of menstruation remains taboo.” Making taboo subjects public is risky, and takes substantial courage. Reclaiming the history of witches, who were persecuted in Europe, often for supporting women’s health and women’s needs, may well be one source of the bravery the Campus Witches show whenever they bring menstruation into the public eye.

Irmak Sarac, a gynecologist and honorary member of the Turkish Medical Association, told ANKA that conditions for female seasonal agricultural laborers was untenable. “We are hearing that women are taking leaves and putting clean earth on them to absorb their menstrual blood,” she said. She too was of the opinion that the state should provide sanitary products for free.

Rodriguez opens her article with this flat statement:

We cannot end extreme poverty if people who menstruate around the world, from Ethiopia to the United States, continue to lack access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, handwashing facilities, and/or, waste management.

The Campus Witches are part of a worldwide movement; their victory (if it happens) will have significant consequences both for individual Turkish people who menstruate and for the greater issue.

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Horses and Humans: The Unlikely Bond between Prey and Predator

Horse and rider jumping a hurdle
Photo by Gene Devine on Unsplash

Debbie says:

Horse-and-human teams perform complex manoeuvres in competitions of all sorts. Together, we can gallop up to obstacles standing 8 feet (2.4 metres) high, leave the ground, and fly blind – neither party able to see over the top until after the leap has been initiated. Adopting a flatter trajectory with greater speed, horse and human sail over broad jumps up to 27 feet (more than 8 metres) long. We run as one at speeds of 44 miles per hour (nearly 70 km/h), the fastest velocity any land mammal carrying a rider can achieve. …

That’s the opening of Janet Jones’ essay in Aeon, “Becoming a Centaur.” Jones has been a neuroscience professor and a stable owner, so she brings a beautifully doubled perspective to the topic, reminding me of Adam’s Task by Vicki Hearne, a 1986 book about training (mostly) horses and dogs from the perspective of a philosopher and poet who extensively studied animal training as well as doing it professionallly. But Hearne’s perspective was only secondarily scientific; Jones is steeped in numbers and fascinating explanations:

No one disputes the athleticism fuelling these triumphs, but few people comprehend the mutual cross-species interaction that is required to accomplish them. The average horse weighs 1,200 pounds (more than 540 kg), makes instantaneous movements, and can become hysterical in a heartbeat. Even the strongest human is unable to force a horse to do anything she doesn’t want to do.

Jones cannot get over her wonder that humans and horses aren’t enemies, and she describes quite lyrically how the connection works:

In mounted teams, horses, with prey brains, and humans, with predator brains, share largely invisible signals via mutual body language. These signals are received and transmitted through peripheral nerves leading to each party’s spinal cord. Upon arrival in each brain, they are interpreted, and a learned response is generated. It, too, is transmitted through the spinal cord and nerves. This collaborative neural action forms a feedback loop, allowing communication from brain to brain in real time. Such conversations allow horse and human to achieve their immediate goals in athletic performance and everyday life. In a very real sense, each species’ mind is extended beyond its own skin into the mind of another, with physical interaction becoming a kind of neural dance.

Jones provides a wealth of scientific detail–the differences between horse and human eyes, different communications with the brain cortexes, the art and science of subtle signals (inward pressure from a rider’s left calf tells the horse to move sidewise to the right). But the part that feels, well, miraculous, is the brain-to-brain communication:

Specifically, neural signals from the horse’s eyes carry the shape of an object to his brain. Those signals are transferred to the rider’s brain by a well-established route: equine receptor cells in the retina lead to equine detector cells in the visual cortex, which elicits an equine motor reaction that is then sensed by the rider’s human body. From there, the horse’s neural signals are transmitted up the rider’s spinal cord to the rider’s brain, and a perceptual communication loop is born. The rider’s brain can now respond neurally to something it is incapable of seeing, by borrowing the horse’s superior range of vision.

These brain-to-brain transfers are mutual, so the learning equine brain should also be able to borrow the rider’s vision, with its superior depth perception and focal acuity.

And if that weren’t enough, Jones goes on to speculate that humans may be able to transmit executive function (the ability to form expectations, make a plan, and carry out that plan) to horses, whose brains don’t operate on that level. This is unproven, but Jones gives some examples of why she believes that scientific study might find evidence.

I have effectively never been on the back of a horse, beyond a few childhood forays in those very controlled pony ride attractions. So I can only faintly comprehend the sensations Jones describes. If you’re a rider, I suspect this article will have an even stronger impact–meanwhile, I’m just going to spend some time revelling in the magic relationship between horses and humans–and the science driving the magic.

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