Young Women’s Club not afraid to tackle tough topics
Evelina Gaivoronskaia | The Chronicle
In the 2021-2022 school year, the students of Mason High School focused on tackling serious topics like abusive relationships and vaginal yeast infections.
Yeast infection and general vaginal health have been a topic covered mostly in health classes, usually accompanied by awkward silence and uncomfortable giggles. Due to hesitation to talk openly about these health subjects, many young women find themselves undereducated about their health and in possibly life-threatening medical situations.
Senior Maya Rao witnessed the tense air around the subject of vaginal health when she conducted research for Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) about vaginal yeast infection awareness.
“I conducted a survey to gauge students’ knowledge regarding yeast infections and found that 37% of respondents had no clue what a yeast infection was, 25% of those being female,” Rao said. “This made me want to do something about it as I felt that this was an important personal health topic that people should be educated on.”
Although she is not part of the Young Women’s club, Rao decided to personally organize an effort to educate the young women of MHS about this health issue. Rao’s plan for educating students was to distribute posters in the MHS women’s restrooms. The posters contained facts and resources that can be accessed by the women looking for more information about vaginal yeast infections and their treatments. Members of the Young Women’s Club helped Rao put up the posters around the bathrooms.
As she got further into her project, Rao found that she wished to put up the posters in the gender-neutral bathrooms too, to educate everyone who might be dealing with yeast infections. Unfortunately, she only had permission to distribute the posters around the women’s bathrooms, so she was unable to distribute them in gender-neutral or men’s bathrooms.
“Women aren’t the only ones that deal with vaginal infections,” Rao said. “Nonbinary and transgender students deserve the same access to personal health education.”
Rao felt that this project was important to her because it was educating people on essential health matters. Through her research, Rao discovered that “53% of respondents avoid seeking professional help due to embarrassment”. If left untreated, yeast infections can develop into severe skin infections, causing skin cracking and severe itching. If the fungus gets into the bloodstream it can be life-threatening, so medical attention in case of the infections is crucial.
“Everyone experiences health issues, but not everyone is comfortable discussing it with others, including healthcare professionals,” Rao said. “In order to make people feel comfortable getting help, education, and normalization of the topic are essential.”
Although Rao said she has not witnessed any outwardly negative attitudes toward vaginal infections, she has witnessed a lack of knowledge on the subject. Because of this, she felt her campaign had the potential to make a significant educational impact.
“A lot of people did not even know what vaginal infections are,” Rao said. “This is more disappointing than anything considering health is a requirement for our school. It points to where our education system is failing.”
Although the topic of vaginal infections may be uncomfortable, it remains essential, because ignoring it may put people with vaginas at risk of serious health issues. Rao said she found shedding light on vaginal infections rewarding for her because she was able to bring more understanding to this health issue.
“I felt [the project] was important,” Rao said. “Knowing I might have helped even just one person is enough for me.”
Rao is not the only student at MHS focused on spreading awareness on difficult topics. Senior Arouba Shafiq is the president of the Young Women’s Club – a club focused on empowering women. One of their projects involves a campaign started by last year’s president, Senior Ayesha Chaudhry. The campaign consisted of distributing informational posters in bathrooms. The posters contained helpful resources for those who were in an abusive relationship or knew somebody in the same situation. Such resources included hotline numbers and a QR code to a website created last year by Chaudhry.
Besides the posters that still remain in the MHS bathrooms, the Young Women’s Club also organized a paper product collection for a shelter whose focus was on helping women flee from abusive relationships. Members of the club came into MHS classrooms for a week with daily announcements about the paper drive. Despite the difficulty of the topic they were addressing, they found a lot of people to be open to supporting the cause.
“We didn’t really need to sugarcoat any of [the topics],” Shafiq said. “We were upfront about what we’re doing and where it was going to. We told them all about how [and] who this is going to help and how it’s going to help them and why it’s important to help them and so we got a lot of support with it.”
Shafiq said that even though she has personally “never really been in an abusive relationship and [she doesn’t] really know anyone in an abusive relationship”, she still has immense empathy for the victims of abusive relationships, so she felt that this was an important subject to spread awareness about. She hopes that the resources of the campaign can help victims of abuse “start healing [by] going through something as traumatizing as that”.
For Shafiq, a major part of this project is to destigmatize victims of abusive relationships reaching out for help. She recognizes how hard it can be to come forward about heavy experiences such as abuse for both men and women, so despite Young Women’s Club being the organizer of the campaign, it is aimed at all victims of abuse regardless of their gender.
“When you’re in a bad situation and you need help, oftentimes it’s hard to find it because of the response you could get from other people,” Shafiq said. “For example, if you’re a boy, not a lot of people might believe you. And if you’re a girl, there are roadblocks put in front of you. What if people are going to believe me? Are people even going to support what happened to me? Because there [are] always people who are against you.”
Photo by Evelina Gaivoronskaia