To start my internship with No More Taboo at the Breaking the Barriers event in Leeds was the best introduction that I could have asked for. Walking into Leeds Civic Hall and seeing dozens of round tables filled with chattering activists made me excited about the day ahead and the conversations that I would have. With introductions from Plan International UK who run the world’s largest girls rights campaign, from Paula Sherriff, the Labour MP for Dewsbury who has vehemently pushed for the abolition of tampon tax, and Bryony Farmer, the 20 year old blogger who created Precious Stars Pads, I was immediately captivated. This introduction was followed by a panel discussion with Shailini Vora, Director and UK Programmes Coordinator at No More Taboo, Sally King, Founder and Director of Menstrual Matters, and Robyn Steward, author and trainer helping people to better understand autism. The discussion was fascinating as each speaker offered incredible perspectives on a variety of issues, producing a rich dialogue about the need for more holistic menstrual education so that our ideas about menstruation are no longer based on myth and assumption. The most interesting points raised drew our attention to the need for more specific situation based education on periods that is specialised to people’s varying needs, as well as the absurdity of euphemistic language used by medical professionals when discussing periods and the all too common occurrence of people who menstruate being misdiagnosed with anxiety and depression, leading to the prescription of medication, medication, and more medication. But in reality, we should be encouraging people who menstruate to track changes in their moods and experiment with lifestyle changes before turning to medical help.
With an incredibly exciting list of workshops that we had the opportunity to attend, including Period poverty in the UK context , Building actions in the UK using case studies from the Global South, Changing attitudes and taking action: the No More Taboo model and Reusable products: what’s available and how can we teach others about them?, it was a difficult choice. After much deliberation, I decided to go to Chella Quint’s workshop on #periodpositivity for the morning session and Plan International UK’s workshop on creating a Menstrual Manifesto for the afternoon session. Chella Quint’s interactive and engaging workshop was a riot! We spoke about moving past the binary of tampon/towel by learning the Menstrual Product Mambo (which we did in a conga line around Leeds Civic Hall), about questioning whether education on periods is inclusive, fun and taboo challenging, and we each developed our own advert for STAINS™, “a removable stain to wear on your own clothing as you see fit. A fashion statement that really says something” (quote taken from http://www.stainstm.com/ ). Chella created a space where we could simultaneously laugh and learn, where we could sit down together and discuss the danger of branded products which take possession of our bodies. Follow Chella’s work and be inspired!
Following on from lunch, we were in for a treat of an informative panel discussion on what we can learn from the Global South. Mandu Reid from The Cup Effect, Janie Hampton from World Menstrual Network and Tina Leslie from Freedom4Girls shared their experiences and their research, warning us about the risk of using culture as an excuse to not make change. Between them their experiences show the need for access to menstrual products in certain rural areas. The Cup Effect’s work has recognised the success of menstrual cups, with family members of people who had received the cup also asking if they could receive one. They also found that men were some of the most captive listeners, and therefore warned us against making assumptions and to place the importance on the individual voice and experience.
To finish my afternoon, I then attended the Menstrual Manifesto workshop with Lucy Russell and Kerry Smith from Plan International UK, where together we created a manifesto which Paula Sherriff will take forward to parliament. With closing talks by Plan International and plenty of tea and coffee being drunk whilst we shared our appreciation for such a beautifully inspiring day, I left feeling so unbelievably excited to be a part of something so important. The people who I met at Break the Barriers were truly incredible, each person having their own story and their own motivation. With all of this positive energy in one room, it was impossible to leave feeling anything but elated!
Make sure you get down to the next Break the Barriers event and I guarantee that you will feel inspired, and keep up to date with all of the amazing work that this incredible network of activists and organisations are doing to challenge taboos and create period positivity on a global scale. But while you’re waiting for the next one to come around, what can you to do challenge period stigmas and tackle period poverty? Talk to somebody – a friend, a family member, a colleague about period poverty and stigma, to raise awareness of the issues. Why not tweet your local MP and ask them what they’re doing to tackle period poverty? There are so many ways you can get involved on a grassroots levels. Join the fight!