It’s Sod’s Law. You have no gynaecological complaints for months – then the second you step off the plane en route to your exotic hotel or far-flung hostel, all hell breaks loose down there.
Bouts of cystitis. Pregnancy scares. Unexpected periods. You name it, we’ve been there. But when you’re abroad it’s not always easy to get yourself seen to, especially if you don’t speak the local language or if there’s stigma around reproductive and sexual health in the country you're visiting. Where can you get an emergency contraceptive pill in Barcelona? An STI test in Rio? Or stock up on tampons in Lagos, for example?
While there may be some information available online, there’s never been a database that consolidates all this worldwide insight into one place. That is, until now. Gynopedia is a new online resource that aims to help women all over the world with their gynaecological issues. Think Wikipedia for women’s sexual, reproductive and health care issues. Why didn’t we think of this?
It was founded late last year by traveller Lani Fried, from San Francisco, after she realised she wouldn’t have a clue how to access contraception during her trip to Asia and there was nowhere to find all the information she needed in one place. Gynopedia gives women the lowdown on accessing contraception and emergency contraception, getting treated or tested for STIs, obtaining menstrual products, and accessing pregnancy and abortion services in major cities around the world.
It also takes specific needs into account, such as those of the LGBTQ community, and lists regional organisations working towards reproductive rights and clamping down on sexual violence.
“When I began preparing for my travels, I realised that I had no idea how I would get birth control in the 12 or so Asian countries that I planned to visit and that was just the tip of the iceberg,” Fried told The Independent. “How about annual pap smears? What if I got pregnant? This lack of information has been a constant theme in my life and I assumed that many other women felt the same way.”
It can also be difficult knowing which clinics or gynaecologists to trust and how to to access these services without crippling yourself financially, Fried said. “As women, we are often aware of how religion, politics, culture and history can play a role in health care in our home countries. However, we may not be aware of how these factors work in other countries,” she added.
Men will also find much of the advice relevant, such as information about STI testing and accessing particular medications, such as HIV prevention drugs PrEP and PEP.
Gynopedia site only launched late last year with a small budget from Fried’s own pocket, but already covers cities in 77 countries and has plans to expand and translate the information into languages other than English. Like Wikipedia, anyone can contribute, but Fried hopes to encourage more contributions from women (or at least more than Wikipedia’s paltry 10%...).
Knowledge is power, and the ultimate aim of the database is to inform women so that they can make the right decisions about their own health and, in turn, educate their friends and communities. Fried told The Independent: “For so long, women have needed to spread this information by word-of-mouth. With Gynopedia, we can share information on a common platform, no matter where we live in the world."