In this issue, we’re talking to Zainab Alradhi, experimental artist and founder of Niswa. Niswa is an organization that seeks to empower women through reconnecting with their cycles, taking charge of their fertility, and making informed environmental choices.
Rawa: What made you decide to start Niswa? Is there a specific moment or story that you can recall that brought the idea to you?
Zainab: I grew up, like most girls in my generation, lacking body literacy. I had limited information about my body, menstrual cycle, and what it meant to be born in a female body. The taboo surrounding the woman’s body created a wall of shame separating me from the core essence of who I am throughout the years. I began practicing Fertility Awareness after my partner Chris did intensive research on the method, but it was not until I read Taking Charge of Your Fertility that I realized, “This is it! This is what I want to do for the rest of life.” I still remember the joyous sensation that I felt, it brought back the child in me: passionate to learn a new language, and ready to explore. The book transformed my whole being by diving deep into the wonders of the woman’s body – my body. The trauma that I experienced with my first period, standing in the dark not being able to connect with my body, the lack of vocabulary I had to describe my reproductive organs, and the mysteries surrounding my cycle were all gone as I started studying the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM). Every menstruating being should have access to FAM, not only as a birth control method, but as a self-awareness tool first and foremost. Because every woman’s question after learning about FAM was, “Why haven’t we learned about this earlier?” Niswa was created.
Rawa: Who do you aim to reach, with the creation of Niswa?
Zainab: When I created Niswa, I asked myself the question, “What would eleven-year-old Zainab have wanted to know before her menarche?” I knew that I wanted to reach women of reproductive age who are curious about the wonders of their bodies and menstrual cycles, and the young girls who I celebrate their entrance to womanhood. Niswa also keeps a welcoming space for all men who seek a better understanding of their menstruating loved ones.
Rawa: What is Niswa’s mission?
Zainab: We strive to empower women through advocating for Fertility Awareness, body literacy, reconnecting young girls and women to their menstrual cycles, and making informed consensual choices regarding their health and environment. We hold a vision of creating a community by opening the possibilities of what our personal journeys as women look like.
Rawa: What has been the response to Niswa so far? How do you feel about the response? Has anything surprised you about the reaction?
Zainab: Niswa was officially launched in the first week of March, which is Women’s History Month. I chose March to launch because it is important to celebrate the journey of the many generations of women that led us to this point. Many people had told me that making a career teaching about the menstrual work was bizarre, that women were not ready to break the taboo yet. Despite that, I knew that women would be excited to learn about their bodies, because I personally was. I poured my heart into the making of Niswa, and what surprised me was not how big it got, but how fast it grew from “my baby project” into this huge platform that is touching thousands of people’s lives and hearts. We grew from couple of hundred community members the first day, to 8,000 in less than a month. They are 8,000 women and men who are passionate to learn and honor the feminine, to share their stories, and find a safe space to express. It is overwhelming, exciting, and scary at times. What keeps me at ease is that my excitement is outweighing all that fear, and that at the end of the day, I have the support of my partner, family members, and friends.
Rawa: What are your short term plans for Niswa? What are your long term plans for Niswa?
Zainab: I’ve learned that with Niswa, the sky is the limit. We are excited to start a local charting circle in our community here in Flint, Michigan learning about the fertility awareness method, charting cycles, sustainability, and self-care. We are also happy to be hosting online talks and workshops in both Arabic and English very soon. By the end of this year, we’d love to launch our first product, a customizable cycle charting journal for anyone interested in the intimate practice of paper charting.
Our long term plan is to travel internationally educating young girls in schools, colleges, and community gatherings about fertility awareness, the menstrual cycle, and the different phases of being a woman. We strive to collaborate with other like-minded organizations and educators to make FAM a common knowledge to every woman, because it is simply their birthright.
Rawa Majdi is a Palestinian-American performance poet, educator, and community organizer residing between Kuwait and the Chicago area. She is the co-founder of Kuwait Poets Society, a collective of poets who routinely create and curate poetry nights, readings, workshops, and open mics in Kuwait. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Jaffat El Aqlam, Banat Collective, and The Brown Orient.