News Blog Period poverty will persist for as long as we see it as a shameful ‘women’s problem’ 7 APRIL 2017BY GABBY EDLIN, FOUNDER OF BLOODY GOOD PERIOD I set up Bloody Good Period in late 2016 when a friend asked me to help out a local asylum seeker drop-in. Although the centre gave out essentials like food, clothes and blankets, the few sanitary towels in stock were ‘for emergencies only’. I’m 17 years deep into my own menstrual cycle and the first bleed of every single period still feels like a bloody emergency. So if I, a relatively privileged woman with enough funds to buy not only tampons, but also the requisite tea, chocolate, paracetemol and chips (don’t judge me, I need the carbs), to feel like this each month, then how did the women I was meeting at the drop-in feel? A whip round of pads on Facebook quickly grew into an initiative with unprecedented support, and I found myself being contacted by more and more centres requiring access to free pads and tampons. I was ready for this though. Last year, I completed a masters at Central St Martins College of Art and Design, where I dove into researching how comedy could be used to engage men in feminism. I feel I’ve used a similar approach to encourage the general public to give up their hard earned cash and donate pads and toiletries to asylum seekers, refugees and those who can’t afford them. “We laugh about our periods, and we lament the pains” Every month, at the New North London Asylum Drop In, I chat to hilarious, vulnerable, powerful refugee women about their lives and their menstrual cycles. We laugh about our periods, and we lament the pains. One woman grabs a single tampon from the box and shoves into a man’s face, laughing as she pretends to stab him with it “Do you know what we do with these, sir?!” Later that afternoon, a young Middle Eastern lady with a baby on her hip sifts through the box of loose products, looking for her preferred brand of non-applicator tampons. A volunteer recoils in mock horror as the woman tells us how easy they are to insert. “No way” says the volunteer. “I don’t know how you can put them in without the applicator! I don’t want to have to touch everything!” We all scold her for being freaked out by her own vagina. The young woman nips back to our stand half an hour later to grab a few more pads. “You never know”, she says. And she doesn’t. Many of the asylum seekers who visit the drop in each month have no fixed abode, are separated from those they hold closest, and have no choice but to live on a pitiful £36 per week, as they are forbidden from working whilst claiming asylum (a process that can last years). THERE IS REAL PROBLEM HERE IN THE UK WITH PERIOD POVERTY AND TABOO At Bloody Good Period, we are determined that refugee women should never have to worry about where the next pack of sanitary towels is coming from. Until just a few weeks ago, I had no idea that this would also apply to British schoolgirls. “I saw this and thought of you”, I understand, now means there’s an article about periods attached. But when a friend sent me a photo of a tiny article in the Metro newspaper revealing that there were schoolgirls in Leeds missing school because they couldn’t afford pads, I was dumbfounded. As someone who spends every waking moment thinking and talking about periods, I should have known there were also British girls unable to go about their daily lives because of period poverty. But I didn’t know, perhaps in part because periods are hidden away, not talked about. It’s an embarrassing secret, a shameful ‘women’s problem’, as though women do not make up half of the population. Those periods are secreted into socks cello-taped into knickers and stacks of rolled up toilet paper in the school toilets. There is real problem here in the UK with periods. Even though half of the population will experience them during their lifetime, it still feels like a secret society. There is an unspoken rule that men and boys should not be “subjected” to our tales of tampons getting stuck, of getting caught short in white trousers, of leaving an unsightly patch on a friend’s parents’ sofa. We shove tampons up our sleeves like splints, palm pads to our workmates more slickly than a £20 note to a nightclub bouncer, so as not to alert our male colleagues of our bleeding vaginas. I mean, have you ever tried to explain menstrual cups to an unenlightened man? Carnage. And as long as we continue to allow those in power – read, men – a blissful ignorance of what happens to half the population every single month, we allow them to get away with doing absolutely nothing about the period poverty that persists in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. I am not demanding we all free-bleed, or brandish our used pads at Parliament – there is a difference between secret and private, after all. We must continue to speak up, and demand that free pads and tampons are available to all, just like condoms are. Initiatives and charities like Bloody Good Period should not have to exist in a functioning society in 2017. However, until we are no longer needed, we will continue to give out pads, talk about our fannies and stick pads on the backs of our enemies. Bloody Good Period provides sanitary products in the New North London Synagogue (NNLS), the New London Synagogue asylum seeker drop-in centre, and other food banks and centres in the UK. Find out more about starting a collection or donating pads here. ABOUT AUTHOR Gabby Edlin is the founder of Bloody Good Period, an initiative providing sanitary protection and toiletries for asylum seekers, refugees and those who can’t afford them.