Occidental’s Public Health Club (PHC) hosted Femme Empowerment Week at various locations throughout campus March 20–24, engaging the Occidental community in dialogue about femme identity. During the week, PHC — along with co-sponsors Kappa Alpha Theta, Alpha Lambda Phi Alpha, Delta Omicron Tau, Phi Kappa Psi and Occidental’s Planned Parenthood Club — organized a supply drive for feminine hygiene products, fundraised nearly $1000 for Los Angeles women’s centers and homeless shelters by encouraging individuals to donate directly the group of their choice, screened the film Vessel and facilitated an art project on the Quad with sticky notes to generate a conversation about femme identity.
“[The week’s concept] started with just the feminine hygiene drive and then it kind of evolved to create a week to both empower femmes around campus and also to express and educate about issues that are happening around the world,” PHC President Marissa Chan (senior) said.
PHC Vice-President Ashley Andreou (senior) referred to the club’s conversations with Meet Every Need with Dignity (MEND), an organization dedicated to alleviating poverty by providing their clients with basic necessities and a pathway to self-reliance. Club members were inspired after learning that the least-donated product — one also in high demand — is female hygiene products.
“In terms of the current political climate, we came up with the idea of having an event for reproductive health rights. With Planned Parenthood getting defunded, I think that we all felt a connection to the issue because our club is mostly consistent of people who identify as females,” Andreou said.
Kirsten Laursen (sophomore), who serves as the PHC treasurer, echoed a similar sentiment.
“It’s an issue close to home, especially considering how expensive feminine hygiene products are. Even for college-aged women who have to buy it on a monthly basis, it’s really expensive and I can’t imagine being homeless or below the poverty line and having this added expense on top of daily struggles,” Laursen said.
Soumya Kandukuri (senior) donated to the hygiene drive while PHC was quad sitting during the week.
“The past election left many women sidelined and feeling without a voice. As a woman, I wanted to be able to support others who may not have access to these really important products,” Kandukuri said.
For the week’s second event, PHC screened Vessel, March 23 in Johnson hall. The documentary, produced in 2014, highlights the work of Women on Waves, an organization that sails around the world to provide abortions at sea for women without legal alternatives.
According to Andreou, the club hosted a screening of the movie two years ago and felt the focus on abortion rights was relevant in light of politically conservative legislation that threatens women’s access to reproductive health care. Andreou commented that the film’s global framing of women’s health rights is important for understanding how students in the U.S. can contribute to facilitating change around the world.
The last event of the week was an art canvassing project which took place March 24 in the Quad and will be displayed in the Cooler. Part of the art project asked students to respond on sticky notes to a series of questions regarding what it means to be femme such as “Why are femmes important?”
“The canvassing event was supposed to be one of our main events that kind of help to show the breadth of what it means to be female,” Andreou said.
Throughout the week, the club also handed out stickers designed with the intention to promote solidarity among femmes. Designed by Pandora Spirakis* (junior), the stickers feature two purple hands wrapped in vines that spell out the word femme.
Chan hopes that other student groups will engage with Femme Empowerment Week will in the future. Chan noted that PHC tried to maintain an intersectional approach to all events by co-sponsoring with multiple organizations but that there is still room for improvement.
“Having the combination of different organizations would really make for a great week and more involvement. We’ve also talked about having a speaker next year to talk about these issues,” Chan said.
*Pandora Spirakis is an illustrator for the Occidental Weekly