You know those people you meet, who have a story that has you thinking…wow? Meet Sweden-born, Australian-based, philanthropist, style guru and content queen, Fredrika Akander. While completing her postgraduate degree, Fredrika discovered an epidemic of young women, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa missing school due to lack of access to sanitary products, some even putting themselves in danger. So, Fredrika started ‘Menstruation With Dignity’, working towards sexual education and providing sanitary items predominantly in Africa. Amazing, right? Now, with a baby on the way - we sat down with Fredrika and what can we say, we were totally in awe of her.
Originally from Gothenburg, Sweden which is such a beautiful part of the world, tell us a little bit about growing up there?
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Gothenburg. Growing up, I couldn't wait to get out and see the world. I left early and have only been back for short visits. But now that I am older and looking back, it was the best place to grow up. So much culture, everything at your fingertips and I always felt very safe. I miss it so much!
We know in Australia Christmas is hot, sunny and we usually eat prawns and spend the day outdoors. What is Christmas like in Scandinavia, what are some of the Swedish traditions you see at Christmas?
Oh, the things I would do for a white Swedish Christmas! Our family usually has a very low-key Christmas. We are not the kind of family that goes all out. Good food, lots of gingerbread cookies and mulled wine, and if we get lucky enough to get snow - long walks in the winter wonderland.
You studied developmental political economy, with a postgraduate degree under your belt and this is still one of your greatest passions. How did you choose to pursue this avenue of study and is this something you would like to focus on down the track, career-wise?
I started off doing anthropology and politics after my undergraduate degree and I found quite quickly that I was drawn to issues of inequality, both gendered and economic. It just made sense for me to pursue my studies in political economy, focusing on gender equality. I have had such amazing mentors along the way that really guided me towards the right path. Dr Jelke Boesten at King's College London, really helped me put into words and action what I, back then, only vaguely knew I wanted to do. I still dream of doing my PhD on gender equality and political economy but I don't know when, or how I will find the time!
With your family overseas and Australia in a two-year lockdown, it must be difficult not being able to visit home, especially while pregnant with your first child. Congratulations by the way! What has it been like experiencing pregnancy without being able to see your family?
It has been really emotional, to be honest. I have felt very lonely at times because the people that would usually be my support network are several time zones away. But my partner is the best and he has made the experience lovely creating a beautiful secluded bubble.
Thankfully things are starting to go back to normal, do you have plans to go home soon?
I would love to! I am not able to fly at the moment as I am nearing my third trimester but I am hoping to bring the bubs home for Swedish summer in 2022!
Some of the incredible work you have done with global charities has included ‘Menstruation With Dignity’. Can you tell us a bit about this cause, the background behind it and what you and the CINTA Foundation have accomplished so far?
In my postgraduate research, I found that a lot of girls in specifically sub-Saharan Africa were missing school due to a lack of access to sanitary items during menstruation and even putting themselves in danger in order to secure pads. I did a lot of fundraising and spreading awareness through my social media channels and teamed up firstly with CINTA to distribute reusable pads in Uganda. It became increasingly difficult to try to manage from Australia as I had no control over the operation. We also actually need to provide girls with quite a bit of information when distributing the pads to make sure they are using them, how to clean and dry them, and not to share them. Many of the girls in the areas we were working in also had no sexual education, so I thought it was irresponsible to just hand out pads without talking about what your menstruation actually entails and how you can protect yourself from unwanted pregnancies and STDs. In short- I realised quickly this was a much larger operation than just handing out sanitary pads! I then went to both rural South Africa (outside of Durban) and to Mannya in Uganda with the Cotton On Foundation to actually take part in the distribution and the sexual education talks. We held girls empowerment and health workshops, and from there I was able to raise even more funds to make it happen. Unfortunately, Covid hit around the same time as our second fundraising wave was rolling out and the schools have now been closed in Mannya for almost two years!
We loved seeing you in Auguste. What was your favourite piece from the Iris collection and what is your number one styling tip?
I will be living in the Leisel Midi Dress! It's so easy to style up with boots and chunky jewellery!