By our wonderful guest blogger - activist, author and illustrator Natalie Byrne
You shouldn’t have to decide between having a pad, or having food, you shouldn’t have to use unhygienic methods such as using a tampon/pad for longer than it’s safe to or even have to use newspaper, old socks, or old rags. You shouldn’t be put in a dangerous situations where you have to steal, get money or are forced into sex in for exchange period products. But this is the reality for many all over the world, and even here in the UK. Period poverty exists because we live in a patriarchal society - men can walk into a public toilet and can access everything they need, you can walk into any healthcare facility and access free condoms, yet women and people who bleed are unable to access the same basic needs.
I was working multiple jobs after I graduated and I so desperately wanted to be part of activism and help a cause, but I didn’t have the resources, the time or the money. So using my illustration felt like something small, but it was something. Just one year later after my initial period illustration on instagram, I was in a Waterstones Tottenham court road for my first book launch: Period. An illustrated period book for children (and all ages!) with everything you need to know about periods.
I never thought that I'd be involved as part of the period movement, but through meeting a lot of people who work in the period space, from charities, companies, organisations and activists, I have learnt a lot. I’ve complied everything I know about how to tackle period poverty and also included advice from my friends, so here's 5 ways of tackling period poverty, aka how to become a bloody activist.
1. Money money money money
There are so many charities working on the grassroots level, who have been in this space for a considerable amount of time already - they have the knowledge expertise and wisdom of understanding how to impact this issue head on. There's so many ways you can donate - from big to small donations. You can sponsor a period with Bloody good Period or buy a cup from The Cup Effect. Other charities include The Red Box Project, Hey Girls, Binti, Street Cramps, No more Taboo, Every Month Manchester and Freedom 4 Girls Leeds. Every bit, big or small, helps to make a difference.
“It’s very easy to get started in activism, you just need to find a charity that speaks to you”
―Bronte from Bee With Love
―Bronte from Bee With Love
2. Write a letter - Send a letter to your MP
Your MP works for you and your constituency. Make it personal, be persistent, explain what you want them to do, include your postcode and don’t be afraid to nudge them for a response.
My name is _____ and I’m writing to you today about the issue of period poverty.
Although the government has made a commitment the charities and activist have said that the 2 million pounds isn’t enough to tackle the issue. For period poverty to become history, we need the government to take action now.
I’m writing to you as my MP to look at how our constituency can: Improve our education around period poverty to eradicate shame, make sure free products are available in all schools, removing the tax on period products because they are not a luxury item and supporting the charities in need (such as Bloody Good Period) who work to help adults in period poverty.
Please respond to my letter and outline the steps you intend to take to address my concerns. I look forward to hearing your response.
3. Talk about periods
“Our speaking out will permit others to speak out, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever. Next time, ask: What’s the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare.”
A great place to start is using social media - repost, follow and share with your friends artists, writers, activists, charities and people who are being loud and proud about their period. A couple of suggestions I would recommend are: the wonderful poet My Hairy Vag and Me, Alice Skinner the artist behind the free periods illustrations, Venus Libido who’s worked with Wuka and ... erm ME of course, but there's a whole load of amazing period art out there.
“We are all guilty, men and women, of keeping this a secret” - Gaby Edlin the founder of Bloody Good Period, always advocates the power of speaking about periods and how much of an impact that can make. Chat to the people in your life, your friends, family and work colleagues. “You're not going to smash a taboo by talking about smashing the taboo, you're only going to do that by actually talking about the thing.” - Gaby Edlin, founder of Bloody Good Period.
Think about where you are - if one in 10 people are struggling to afford period products, it’s highly likely that your area will be effected. “Ask your school, uni or workplace what they are doing to prevent period poverty” says Daisy Wakefied, a university student that campaigned for free period products in her university, spending her own student loan on period supplies and placing them in toilets all around school. She took matters into her own hands after her emails were being ignored by the university. This led to her university announcing earlier this year that they will be providing free period products! “Just opening up the conversation can make a positive change.” - Daisy Wakefield.
What about the workplace? I asked my friend Libby, who is behind Flow Free Boxes, an awareness raising initiative to encourage business and organisations to recognise menstrual products as essential items, about this topic. She said the first thing to do is find support at work from colleges, then speak to the decision maker at work like HR - if you’re not comfortable speaking face to face, try emailing and cc a friend in. Remind them that menstruation is normal, and that toilet paper is provided free of charge. “Ultimately, it could be a bit awkward but at the very least it will give that person something to think about. Anyway, if you don’t ask, you don’t get, so go for it!“
4. Use what you got
Don’t have any money? But have some time? Volunteering is a great way to get involved in activism. Additionally to time and money, think about what else you’ve got - how about your awesome personality, your organisational skills, your writing or even your creativity. In activism and the fight for equality, we need as many different skills as possible. I used my drawings which was what I knew, so use what you have at your disposal and build on what you are already good at. Look at your CV, make a list of the unique skills you have and see how you could offer them to charity needs.
Emma Breschi is a Bloody Good Period ambassador and uses her incredibly funny and lovable personality to joke and laugh about periods, from discussing menstruation with her dogs, to writing songs about periods with her sister. Karen Hobs, makes wonderfully hilarious vagina based comedy. I’ve been to period parties where the entry fee is bringing a period product - get creative and have fun. Then there's social media, Gaby from Bloody Good Period started collecting pads with Facebook statuses and Amika george worked with the Pink Protest and used social media to organise their protest. You can do so much with what you’ve already got!
5. The period education - The Period Education Starter Pack (Podcasts, Books, TV, Film)
Amika George, the founder of the #freeperiods movement says “make sure you have a bank of knowledge ready for when people try and shut you down, because people will try”. From the outside some people think that periods are a small niche issue, but my friend Leah Remfy-Peploe(one of the co-founders of the organic tampon company OHNE) explains it’s actually quite the opposite. “It's such a daunting, huge, and varied issue. You need to view the myriad issues as intertwining but unique problems.”
There are loads of amazing recourses available for free online which are great places to start, such as First Blood Podcast, Blobcast Podcast, the Stay in the Room podcast. Then there are amazing books books like mine Period, Period Power by Maisie Hill, Period Power a manifesto for the movement by Nadya Okamoto and Vagina: A Re-education by Lynn Enright.
It’s important to do your research, so that you feel confident in what you're talking about. But also it’s super important to use inclusive language. We have to include trans and non-binary people in our fight for period equity, it’s 2019 - there's no excuse. “When someone sits there and is mindful towards me, that means the world to me, rather than just ignoring me as a person” - Kenny Jones.
Period poverty isn't going away any time soon, but it is an issue that is solvable. Remember that change comes from ordinary people, we just need to be persistent and resilient. “It’s not just a fad, it’s a movement we're talking about, but it’s almost like every year there's a big thing that everyones talking about - that's just how the media works. They cling onto things and then it’s like 'oh okay what's next?' - we need to be careful and aware of that and just keep talking about it, even when the media decides not to, because we are going to keep bleeding.” - Ru, a volunteer at The Environmenstral Network