End Period Poverty

Jay KellyBlog, Parenting, Well Woman

End Period Poverty.
The #endperiodpoverty is very much in the news at present. It is about time.

So many people do not even know it is a thing. I didn’t until last year.
I didn’t grow up with money, and after 11 years as a lone parent to 4 daughters, this is currently still the case, but sanitary products have remained top of the shopping list, and thankfully I can afford an occasional bottle of wine, and shoes for my children. Despite having no ‘disposable income’, I wouldn’t say that I am living in poverty. We just haven’t been able to afford a luxury like a family holiday for many years.
Living in Harrogate, in the north of the UK, an area known for its affluence, its fancy houses and a high number of expensive cars, many people wouldn’t expect it to be a problem for many here. Yet it is.

And it isn’t just those who are on benefits, it is those who have two working family members, no financial support, but stupidly high outgoings each month, that do not match their income.
It’s not just those with financial issues though. There are girls and young women in our schools that have no easy access to adequate supplies.

The Red Box Project was set up in 2017 by 3 women in Portmouth who wanted to make a difference by putting Red Boxes filled with sanitary products in to schools, to provide easy access to whatever they need to get through their cycle, month after month, with no shame or embarrassment.

Over the last year, The Red Box Project has grown and at present we have over 700 boxes in schools across the country. Continuing to grow as new coordinators come forward.

In the few months that we have been setting up the RBP in Harrogate and District, myself and my eldest daughter Thea (17) have been able to get donations to buy the donation bins and boxes, have had generous support from a couple of local businesses. Studio One has done all of the printing of the vinyl labels that have gone onto the donation bins, and local removals, logistics and storage business Fishers Ltd have allowed us free reign with their printer, to do any printing we need.

We managed to gather enough donations to fill 9 boxes to deliver to all of the secondary schools and a college in our area. Then over the summer holidays we have gathered enough donations to top those boxes up once the students are back. The local community have been incredible. The donations, the words of support, the efforts of those who have helped gather the donations from the locations.

The next goal is to provide smaller boxes of pads and pants for our primary schools, because some girls are starting their periods from as young as 9, 10 years old. Together we can end period poverty and help the girls and young women have dignity in their periods. No more stuffing tissues in pants, no more doubling or tripling up on pants, no more socks as pads.

“This is a very much needed project. In my previous job, I worked with young girls who had been expelled from school and they told me dreadful experiences of embarrassment and non-attendance at school during their periods. I regularly supplied my students with sanitary products, warm drinks and snacks because as you know you are not able to learn if your basic needs are not being met. Hard to believe this was in Harrogate area.”
Staff at Knaresborough library

“For a charity to be able to provide sanitary products is just amazing for the school because it allows us to use money on other things – like food vouchers and school uniforms.”
Teacher at Harrogate High school
[note to say that we are not a charity, but a community initiative.]

Across the country, Red Box Project coordinators dedicate so much time and energy to getting these boxes into schools, and the continued job to not just be able to top them up as needed, but also raise AWARENESS.
These boxes are only any good if the girls and young women know about them.
Schools are given posters to place in toilets and on noticeboards so that the girls know that there is a box that they can take all that they need from.

It is not just those who struggle financially, but all sorts of life circumstances. As this message below was sent to me, it was a huge reminded of why we are doing this. It is not just money, but also the embarrassment that girls and women all too frequently feel about their periods. As if bleeding is shameful and dirty.
This is where I work hard to not get mad!

“I was brought up in a single parent household. My Dad raised me. We had a good relationship but there was no way I’d have asked him for money for pads. When we were shopping at the supermarket I wouldn’t have picked them up with him. It was embarrassing. I know now that it shouldn’t have been but it was. I had to ask friends at school if they had any spares, pretending I’d been caught by surprise or had forgotten some. I didn’t have a job to pay for them and wouldn’t have gone to the shop on my own with my pocket money, no way. Who might serve me? Who would they tell?

At school we were made to tell our PE teacher when we were on our period. She recorded it in a diary. Yes, really. So that we couldn’t ‘lie’ to skip swimming lessons. We were pressured into using tampons from age 11 by herself and by the silent peer pressure that everyone would know why you weren’t swimming. If we were on our period on a Monday when first lesson was swimming, we had to run laps of the field with her shouting out of the window at us. Cramps were no excuse. If we were, according to her schedule, on our period, this was made obvious to all female classmates as we were excused showers after PE lessons. Humiliating and obviously a reason for many to skive days of school. A really negative start to puberty which made it even more embarrassing to get hold of sanitary items.

One summer we had a party at a male friend’s house. I went to the loo and there was a storage unit with wicker drawers in the bathroom. I could see some packs of pads in there, obviously his Mum or sister’s supply. I wasn’t on my period but inevitably I would be over the next month. I shamefully pocketed some to save. I hated myself for doing it but the relief that I had some and didn’t need to worry about going to school and facing toilet paper in my pants made me do it. I stole them. They were a wonderful family and I know they would have gladly given me them had I asked but I was too embarrassed.

This shouldn’t be a topic that’s embarrassing, or that has a stigma attached to it. Half the population bleeds, once a month, for a large percentage of their lives. It’s thanks to periods that we can have our beautiful children. It’s mother nature. No-one is ever going to be proud of their periods but we can be proud to make a small donation every so often and help out a young women when she needs support. Share the love, support a girl in your community and feel proud.”
Local business owner who is supporting The Red Box Project by helping to gather donations and spreading the word.

These are the girls that most teachers are probably not even aware of. This message was sent to me by a woman who is helping our local project. It made me cry onto my phone screen.

If you have read this blog post due to being on my website, you will see that I work privately with women and teenagers teaching them to tune in with their menstrual cycle, and I am trying passionately to get rid of this stigma attached to periods.

I was rather shocked when a college receptionist told me that he was the one who delivered the “period talk” to the girls when he covered puberty in Yr 5 & 6 when he was a teacher.

This really isn’t good enough!

I believe that no young girls should be given period advice from an older man who has never been a pre-teen/teenage girl, incredibly embarrassed the thought of periods, nevermind her own.

“In my primary school or secondary school they didn’t give us one lesson on periods.”
Clodagh, 14, Nottingham

Now, I have 4 daughters, and so I know that the local schools here do cover puberty, as my daughters have fed back to me what has been discussed, but unfortunately, there is not adequate information on what to do with your period, what, why, where and how… and since this is a monthly occurrence for half of our population, this really is not good enough.

How many girls and young women (even grown women) think they have a repeat infection because they do not know that their vaginal discharge changes at certain stages in our monthly cycle.

How many females go through repeat anxiety moments, where in that moment they feel like it is their whole world, but if they were to chart their cycle, they would see that the worst anxiety coincides with their period about to start.

How to plan new projects in for the time prior to ovulation, as it is when we are most creative and energetic, and how when we feel totally overwhelmed during our monthly bleed, it is ok, and will pass very quickly.

I truly believe the emotional and mental health of our girls and women will get such a boost from knowing more about what is happening in our bodies. Even GCSE Biology doesn’t cover this sort of valuable information.

I would like to see this change.  If we can support our girls and young women through their menstrual cycles, we could see a huge shift in stress and emotional issues, and hopefully, therefore, truancy and also time off due to emotional stress.

I am midway through creating a course for schools, for teachers, for the girls and young women… Periods are not something to be ashamed or embarrassed by.


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