Winner of STARTS Cross Fertilization Programme 2023
Women have been considered witches when society saw that they could heal, cure and care for themselves. Since then a culture of shame and taboo around the female body has pervaded our society, leading to crucial knowledge gaps in vaginal health. This has been compounded by social taboos around intimate health which additionally limit women from accessing knowledge, connecting with their body and learning about their vulvas and vaginas. Simple things such as knowing the genitals, interpreting fluids, recognizing ovulation and observing the cervix are considered experts’ skills. To address this, feminist activists and organisations have built crowdsourced educational resources. Our idea is based on the feminist practice devloped back in the ‘70 of self-gynecological visit, as a tool to confront medical violence, prejudices and hierarchy with the aim to empower women. Since not much has changed: reproductive rights are still rejected, the gender gap in healthcare and research is still broad and people with vagina continue to receive poor intimate and sexual education.
With this in mind we are developing ALMA Toolkit a set of educational materials and tools designed to democratise and destigmatise intimate health learning and empower people with vaginas to self-manage their bodies. The kit will be easy-to-access, low-cost, open-source and encourage participation.
All self-exploration begins with
cosciousness raising, a political practice originated by feminist collectives in the 1960s in which skills, experiences and information related to the body and sexuality are shared.
ALMA Toolkit is composed of four pillars: the first is a card game designed for self-awareness that gamifies and creates a safe space to share intimate health experiences. The second part is a set of speculum and anatomical models of vulvas to educate and self-perform a gynecological examination. The third part consists of protocols and materials to create a mini bio lab where people can experiment and learn about their vaginal bacteria. The fourth part is an online community platform where to share experiences of self-exploration. The toolkit is primary made to be used in a workshop or a collective, soon we will provide additional training for workshop facilitators.
Most of the physical objects of the toolkit and the information will be available as open-source with the possibility of customising it. People will have the possibility to freely download and create our toolkit, and for those who don’t have access to makery machines or bio materials we will give the chance to purchase from our website. Our current target are collectives and groups of people with vaginas aged +18. In the future we would like to explore the possibility to re-design the toolkit for specific needs (i.e. people with disability, teenagers, vulnerable minorities).
Speaking Bitterness as it was called the practice of feminist consciousness raising, is a card game that allows a circle of gender oppressed people to create their own ritual of a safe space for sharing. Consciousness Raising is an intense experience, in which the systemic elements of violence emerge and make sense of individual experiences. The card game encourages storytelling and mutual listening.
PART 2 Self-exploration, reflects on the use of the speculum and pelvic examinations. The Speculum was invented by James Marion Sims, the “father” of modern gynecology, who committed torture and experimentation on slave women to test surgical tools and methods for vaginal fistula. The idea is to tackle the shame that occurs during the exposure of bodies during medical examination. The reclaiming of the object is also a political act of problematizing how those bodies have been considered during history. If we consider for example the contradiction between the latin word for Vulva, pudendum, which means “that of which one ought to be ashamed” and the word pubes, meaning the adult male participation into the public sphere. People with vulva are therefore invited to take the speculum in their own hands, use it and look at their cervix. The use of the speculum and its invention has made gynecology as the art of making visible what at the same time should be kept hidden. Through a collective experience of learning and showing, gynecological practice is challenged as it is not only the study of women's bodies but it makes female bodies.
PART 3Biofilie Lab, a kitchen based educational lab to learn about the vaginal microbiome. This last part of Alma Toolkit has been until now only conceptualized and explored during the art residency at Hangar in Barcelona and at Waag Society in Amsterdam. We have been only able to disclose during Alma Toolkit participatory workshops some samples of isolated bacteria.
We are designing and testing the toolkit with different groups and collectives based in Italy who are already exploring practices of empowerment in gynaecology but who also have different levels of knowledge and needs.
September 2023 - Pictures from the third workshop at Ars Electronica Festival - Linz (AT)
July 2023 - Pictures from the second workshop at Waag - Amsterdam (NL)
June 2023 - Pictures from the first workshop at the Consolturia Autogestita Caza Feu - Bussoleno (IT)
Do you want to join us? Or organise a workshop with your collective?
write us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Over the last 3 years, ALMA team has been running 16 workshops across the globe to listen to women’s stories about practices, culture and language in intimate health. This work has highlighted two key barriers in the current education and self-discovery process: the disconnection between information and body, and the lack of a safe inclusive space for people to share and co-create knowledge.
In 2016 we presented Future Flora (Starts Prize 2018) - a kit, proposing a speculative biohacking scenario on growing healthy vaginal bacteria at home to balance the intimate microbiome. Its narrative joined the ongoing global discussion about claiming back the female bodies - arguably even a new wave of feminism, marked primarily by the importance of social media and self-organization. Future Flora was not meant as a real product but rather a conversation starter about female intimate care, which it successfully did (Dezeen, MAK DesignLab Permanent Collection). In this context, we started Alma - a wearable pH sensor to monitor vaginal fluids and prevent early bacterial infections (Re-Fream, Vision Health Pioneers, NANODTC University of Cambridge) as an attempt to bring a real product to the market.
ALMA Toolkit is lucky to be mentored by
Rosanne Hertzberger - scientific researcher and founder at Crispatus
Gaia Leandra - scientific art researcher at Hangar
Klau Kinky - member and founder of Gynepunk
Whitefeather Hunter - artist, researcher and witch
Thanks to Serena Simoni dell’Università di Ancona nel dipartimento Scienze.