Even now, in 2017, talking about periods is something too many of us find kind of uncomfortable. It’s one of the reasons period poverty has become such a widespread but hidden problem.
However, discussions about blood, tampons and periods are no sweat for Bloody Good Period founder Gabby Edlin. Neither are they a big deal for 17-year-old campaigner Amika George. FlowAid’s Hayley Smith is similarly unfussed when it comes to talking about the red stuff. After all, it is a natural bodily function for half of the world’s population.
Bold, confident and proactive, these women are part of a growing network across the country devoted to eradicating period poverty. Not having enough money to afford pads or tampons might sound unrealistic to some, but for the thousands of homeless women, asylum seekers and others living below the poverty line, it can have an immensely damaging effect on their lives.
‘It was something I’d never heard of before’
Amika was shocked to discover girls her age were regularly missing school. Image Credit: Jem Collins / RightsInfo
For Hayley, it was an article in Vice on coping with periods when homeless that spurred her to action. For Amika it was a report from Freedom4Girls that found pupils in Leeds couldn’t afford pads, and were missing school every month. For Gabby, it was the idea that asylum seekers fleeing horrendous conflicts could end up in safety, but with no way to deal with their periods.
All three share a common theme though – as with so many other groups set up to combat period poverty – they couldn’t quite believe this was happening here in the UK, and felt compelled to do something about it. “It was something I’d never heard of before,” explains Amika. “I started to do some research and asked my friends and family about it, and I realised it was just this huge hidden problem.
It can have a huge effect on dignity, self-esteem and confidence. Girls are being robbed of their dignity.
“When girls are missing school routinely, for a month, every single month, that’s really stopping us from moving forward as a society. People aren’t being treated equally and girls are being robbed of their dignity. It can have a real impact on their self-esteem and confidence. I think it’s ridiculous we that we only ever talk about periods when we’re saying they’re disgusting.”
Amika is now running a national campaign calling for all girls receiving free school meals to also receive sanitary products. As well as racking up more than 11,000 signatures on her petition, she’s also attracted the support of Cherie Blair and was cited as the inspiration for The Green Party including a period poverty pledge in their 2017 manifesto.
‘It’s weird to think women make up half the population and aren’t taken seriously’
— Jem Collins (@Jem_Collins) September 28, 2017
There are estimated to be more than 60,000 homeless women in the UK. Video Credit: Jem Collins / RightsInfo
It’s not just those in schools who need help to cope from month to month though. FlowAid, set up by Hayley Smith in 2015, wants to help the estimated 68,000 homeless women across Britain. “Poor nutrition, poor diet, abuse, they all factor into bad, irregular periods,” explains Hayley. “Which makes this even more of an issue for homeless women.”
I have irregular periods, but I have products to help me manage that. If you’re homeless, you don’t have that
“If you have irregular periods, you don’t know how long you’re going to come on, you don’t know how heavy it’s going to be, you can’t predict it. I have irregular periods, but I have products to help me manage that. If you’re homeless, you don’t have that.”
FlowAid now acts as a distribution channel to various charities and shelters across the capital, including St Mungos, Ealing Soup Kitchen and Whitechapel Mission. Women are able to pick up products in a safe, non-judgmental environment, with the project shortly set to expand to Bristol.
Reaching thousands of women every month
Gabby now supplies thousands of asylum seekers and refugees with sanitary products. Image Credit: Jem Collins / RightsInfo
It’s easy to think of period poverty as something small and niche, but the reality is anything but. Hayley, Amika and Gabby are just a small part of the hundreds of organisations across the country handing out pads and tampons to women in need. An investigation from RightsInfo found thousands of people are relying on them every month. Bloody Good Period, set up by Gabby Edlin, sees 1,200 of these women in North London alone.
Watching her hand out pads and other sanitary products at the monthly drop-offs is strangely empowering. Chatting with other women, holding their newborn babies and just generally catching up with their lives, everything is so incredibly normal. Everything about Blood Good Period focuses on taking the stress out of periods for the asylum seekers and refugees who would otherwise struggle to get what they need.
However, much like the other incredible women working across the UK, she is adamant both the Government and opposition should be doing more to address the problem. “Sanitary products need to free for those who need them,” she stresses. “Boys need to have education too. We live in a structurally sexist society and women’s needs inevitably get tossed to the bottom of the pile.”