An interview on period poverty



Can you recall the first time you become acutely aware of period poverty? Can you tell me a bit about it? 

-          In our agency there’s been varying degrees of knowledge and understanding when it comes to period poverty

-          I’m sure I saw something when I was at high school in Boots in Stirling where boxes of tampons where in clear perspex locked boxes which I remember thinking was pretty strange at the time

-          However, it wasn’t until we read the hard stats in a fairly recent The Guardian article (back in February) that it jolted us into action

-          The report by Women for Independence, a grass roots organisation, released one of the most detailed surveys of its kinds and reviewed the effects of period poverty in Scotland, and revealing the real horrors of the injustice

-          Nearly one in five women in Scotland has experienced period poverty and were desperately resorting to using old clothes or newspapers, when they cannot afford sanitary protection.

Why is campaigning and raising awareness of period poverty important to you?

-          I’ve always had a strong moral compass, and have volunteered and mentored women throughout my life

-          I used to work on behaviour change campaigns for the government and have always been passionate about making a difference

-          However, getting into campaigning has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done as you are able to see tangible results and where you’ve directly made that impact and also pretty quickly

-          There’s also a really strong sense of community, with fellow campaigners showing support for each other

-          I currently work at a creative marketing agency WIRE, we are based in Scotland and it’s headed up by two incredible women Pam and Lee who are passionate about equality and bringing about positive change

-          I think since WIRE started they had a vision that the agency would campaign for things we believe in and luckily we’ve got to that point where we can invest our time and energy into campaigning

-          We set 10% of agency time aside to work on campaigns for social change and with the Bloody Big Brunch we’ve been able to combine our creativity and social consciousness to create a concept that will get people talking, bring people together and break down the taboos around periods

-          So, we work on the Bloody Big Brunch during our agency time but also in our own time and using our own funds

-          Although we recently secured Smirnoff as our brilliant Bloody Mary sponsor so we’re not having to pay for the vodka ourselves any more

Why did we decide to tackle period poverty though?

-          Well we believe being able to afford/ have sanitary products shouldn’t be a luxury

-          Period poverty is so specifically an injustice levied at women

-          Pads and tampons are both taxed as luxury, non-essential items by 5% – you are, quite literally punished for being a women

-          Period poverty also affects women from all different backgrounds from homeless women, refugees, asylum seekers, those for low income backgrounds, school girls and skint students

-          There’s also so much shame attached to talking about periods so we want to break the taboos around that

-          If we can feel positive about our periods and celebrate them rather than hiding away from them it will help a lot of other issues which women face   

-          Periods shouldn’t be something to be embarrassed about, it’s one of the greatest most natural gifts we have as human beings

Can you share any stats on how many people in the UK are affected by the issue? How does this impact people in the short term and long term?

-          Plan UK research identified 1 in 10 young women+ school girls are suffering from period poverty and resort to using rags, newspapers, old socks, double-up pants affected in the UK

-          Almost 138,000 girls in the UK have missed school in the last year because they couldn’t afford sanitary products (OnePoll Research March 2018, Always)

-          This report of 500 girls aged 10 to 18, which shows seven per cent have been forced to skip school during their ‘time of the month.’

-          Of these girls, the average has missed five days of school during the last year – which made them feel embarrassed and ashamed.

-          In an attempt to avoid such a situation, six per cent of parents admit they have been so desperate to equip their daughter with sanitary protection they have resorted to stealing on the occasions they couldn’t afford to buy them.

-          While more than a fifth of mums or dads have gone without something themselves so they had enough money to meet their daughter’s needs. The studies among girls and parents were carried out by

-          Plan UK research - One in seven girls (14%) have had to ask to borrow a sanitary product from a friend

-          More than one in ten girls (12%) have had to improvise a sanitary product

-          Nearly half (48 per cent) of girls aged 1421 in the UK are embarrassed by their periods

-          One in seven (14 per cent) girls admitted that they did not know what was happening when they started their period and more than a quarter (26 per cent) reporting that they did not know what to do when they started their period

-          Almost three quarters (71%) of girls admitted that they have felt embarrassed buying sanitary products

-          Scotland

-          I’m not sure if it’s as clear cut as short and longer impacts, what happens immediately will affect what happens in the future

-          So in the short term – girls are missing school which will influence their performance long term, there is a lot of shame attached around periods and this is intensified when we bring period poverty into the equation

-          Long term – stigma around periods will also affect self-esteem in the long run and how women see themselves and how worthy they consider they are, there’s also a risk of health conditions, from toxic shock syndrome to bacterial infections from not changing your pads, and it’s hard to digest the long-term effects of using newspapers

Do you think enough is being done to tackle period poverty by those in power? If not, what should be done, in your opinion?

-          Period poverty is a global issue and it is now starting to grab the attention of those in power and we’re beginning to see changes happen

-          But there is still a very long way to go

-          The Major of London just announced he is 'calling on the Government to take urgent action and end period poverty', by announcing a partnership with @RedBoxProject to supply menstrual products to London schools which is fantastic

-          We’ve seen some real change happening in Scotland and Monica Lennon’s bill was passed in parliament and is working towards everyone who menstruates to have access to sanitary products for free – a universal right of access, one of the first in the world with a specific focus on schools, colleges and universities to provide these products in toilets

-          A similar introduction to the C card scheme which already is in place in some health boards offering free condoms, which will normalise access to sanitary products

-          Wales are – believe there’s been a £1m fund from the government to tackle the issue (March) and they are starting to make progress at a local level

-          There is loads of good work happening in North Ireland by community groups such as The Homeless Period Belfast and we’re beginning to see more coverage media and press wise there  

-          However sadly the UK / Tory government is deaf to this issue

-          We want to see the tax removed on sanitary products

-          We want to see universal provision for everyone who menstruates in the UK, like what Monica Lennon’s bill is suggesting in Scotland

What does the Bloody Big Brunch set out to achieve? What has it achieved so far?

-          There is so much brilliant work already happening out there and we see our role as follows:  supporting the period positive and period poverty campaigners, bringing everyone together, to raise awareness and drive donations and bring about real change to the law and people’s perceptions of periods

-          The Bloody Big Brunch is still very much in its infancy however at our launch event in Glasgow we collected over 1000 items which we donated to the Trussell Trust

-          We’re now heading to London on Saturday 2 June

-          Manchester in August, then Edinburgh and we’re working towards a National Day in September where everyone hosts their own brunch at home

-          Our ultimate aim is to empower people to host their own brunches at home or work to drive donations

What role have you played in getting it off the ground? 

-          I’m part of the team of organisers – responsible for partners such as Bloody Good Period, Red Box & sponsors Smirnoff. I also look after the publicity and twitter

Period poverty is obviously something that a lot of women can get behind and support, but how do you plan on getting more men involved and supporting? What message do you have for the men reading this piece? 

-          Talking about periods is key for both men and women

-          Everyone is welcome to our brunches and we’ve seen how talking has really benefited and shifted perceptions of the men in our office

-          We’ve got about a 70-30 split in our office and the guys have really got behind the Bloody Big Brunch

-          At first they felt awkward and didn’t really know how to respond, in fairness some of the girls felt a bit embarrassed discussing it all

-          But the more we talked the easier and more natural it was, let it flow, let it flow

-          It’s almost like a bit of a microcosm here of what could happen outside our walls

-          The more the guys got involved with BBB they told us how good it felt and it really normalised everything

-          So we’d say come to our brunches, speak to your sisters, girlfriends, female friends, mums, aunties

-          Talking really is the simpliest way to break down taboos

-          Get behind the campaign

-          Buy from Hey Girls

1.       Sign a petition to urge the UK government to provide free sanitary products for schoolgirls from low income families - see Amika George’s #freeperiods

2.       Time is so valuable, donate yours and volunteer with initiatives like the Red Box Project or Bloody Good Period

3.       If you menstruate, buy your products from Hey Girls, for every pack you buy they donate one to someone affected by period poverty

4.       Come to a Bloody Big Brunch and find out more or host your own!

5.       Talk about your periods, so much of these issues stem from the shame attached to discussing menstruation