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!
Periods and contraception are intrinsically linked, at No More
Taboo we believe everyone should have choice and know all the options before
making their own informed decision. In our chats at different events we have
heard a lot of talk about natural contraception and period tracking as a form of
contraception and wanted to find out more. One of our volunteers, Catriona,
talks about her own experiences here:
“I first heard about the fertility awareness method from a girlfriend. We’d met for a drink and the talk turned to reproductive health, as it is want to. I’d stopped taking the pill after almost ten years, and this had left me embarrassingly unacquainted with my body’s natural monthly cycle. While I knew that it was normal for my periods to be erratic after going cold turkey on the progesterone pills I’d been popping for such a long time, this knowledge didn’t help the feeling that my body was suddenly out of my control.
For all its flaws, the pill was great in some ways too. My period arrived predictably at the same time every month. I also felt secure knowing there was virtually no chance of me getting pregnant so long as I remembered to take it every day. The problem was, my mental health was suffering, which I’ve since learned is the case for many girls and women in the UK . This was a problem that outweighed the benefits and I finally came off the pill as a result.
So far, so liberating. But this was just the beginning of my journey. I still needed to figure out what to do about contraception. Although there are quite a few options out there, none of them were appealing to me, especially as I was completely ruling out hormonal methods. The other consideration was my period. I’d become used to it arriving at the same time each month, and knowing when it would make an appearance gave me the power to plan around that. Without controlling my cycle artificially, it could arrive at any time.
Enter the fertility awareness method (FAM). Not to be confused with the rhythm method, FAM involves tracking your monthly cycle to work out when you’re ovulating. Women are only fertile for a few days each month, so working out when this fertile time falls is the key to predicting your next period. It also means you can avoid sex (or use barrier contraception) during those fertile times if your aim is avoiding pregnancy. Couples trying to conceive can do the opposite.
So how does it work? Simply put, by taking your temperature every morning and recording the changing quality of your cervical fluid. The term 'cervical fluid' may sound gross at first, but its really not. It's totally normal and plays a crucial role in our fertility. You can find out more about the ins and outs by reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler (or as I like to call it, the Bible. It even lives in my bedside drawer).
For me, tracking my monthly cycle is about so much more than contraception. It’s about feeling empowered and in charge of my body. It’s about recognising what’s normal and healthy so that I’ll be able to identify anything that isn’t. It’s about knowing why I feel a certain way at certain times of the month and knowing that it’s just part of my body and its quirks. FAM may not be for everyone, but I’m so glad my friend introduced me. If you have £8 to spare on a thermometer and a smartphone to download a free app, I’d recommend giving it a go.”
What sorts of contraception do you use?
How does your contraception affect your periods?
Do you trust methods like the Fertility Awareness Method?
Nb. No More Taboo do not recommend one form of contraception over another and recommend each individual to conduct their own research into effectiveness and appropriateness for themselves.
[Picture courtesy of sandiegohomebirth.com]
This week, Bodyform released a new advert for its range of sanitary products. So far, so uncontroversial, right? Except this advert features realistic red blood poured onto a sanitary pad, making it the first ever advert shown in the UK to depict menstrual blood for what it is.
It has taken until 2017 to get to this stage of openness about menstrual health, which seems ridiculous, because this sort of story shouldn’t be shocking. It shouldn’t be news. Women (and trans/nonbinary people who menstruate) have been bleeding red blood out of their vaginas since before advertisements, the internet and probably before television (except then they did it in black and white). What this advert represents, however, is the banishment of the infamous ‘blue liquid’ that used to feature as a smurf-esque stand-in. I say good riddance. My friends have told me of younger siblings or even partners who used to genuinely think period blood was blue, because that’s all they’d seen and nobody had taught them otherwise. This sanitisation of the period has led to a lack of awareness of what periods are actually like, which in turn leads on to the stigma, the culture of silence and the idea that a period makes a woman ‘unclean’. Blue gives the impression of sterility, coldness and science. Blood is red, visceral, dark, thin or thick, a sign of vital life. Denying this reality is denying cis women’s natural functions, denying their very vitality. As we moderate and censor periods, the more we strengthen this taboo in society.
The wider question raised here of course is the issue of how much we sugar-coat women’s bodily functions (that way lies a yeast infection, dear reader). It is hilariously absurd the way some companies market tampons and towels – like some sort of mysterious miracle product that will change you from a sad woman who cannot go out to a laughing woman who can skip about and sail and wear white trousers (oh brave person!). All these things are of course possible on your period but to look at these adverts you would think their products contained an unhealthy dose of caffeine.
I have to admit I was nervous thinking about how my partner would deal with this part of life once we moved in together. His acceptance of the messy, emotional, irritable, bloody reality of my period was a relief – but I shouldn’t have been nervous in the first place. Honestly, it cramped (sorry) my style. Acceptance was literally the absolute least he or anyone could do: actually developing an understanding by asking questions and talking frankly is what is now needed.
We should normalise and educate about periods, and hopefully this advert will make more people who live with and around menstruation comfortable talking to each other about it. Ultimately it’s about education – the more education, the better the lives of many millions of women around the world. This is what No More Taboo stands for. It’s one small red drop for woman, one giant leak for womankind.
Today we have an announcement to make. We have decided to put our Monthly Hugs subscription service on pause. We absolutely love Monthly Hugs and have put a lot of time and energy into making it happen, so this hasn’t been an easy decision and it’s taken us some time to reach.
The reason for the pause is that even though we have had a really amazing reception to the boxes, a lot of positive feedback and even featuring in the Independent’s top 10 self-care subscription boxes, we’ve had less subscribers than we expected following the launch.
Given that we are such a small organisation with limited resources, we’ve come to this difficult decision to put Monthly Hugs on pause for the next few months until we can source significant investment or a partner which can support us to cover the overheads of building a larger customer base.
Nonetheless we would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you who has supported us during the Crowdfunder in June and beyond to get Monthly Hugs of the ground, it has been a pleasure and we are so pleased with our Endless Summer box that went out in August.
This journey has given us invaluable experience and the resources we so desperately needed to carry on with our Tackling Period Poverty project working with low-income vulnerable women right here in Bristol, which we couldn’t have done without the support of Bristol Green Capital.
We would like to emphasise that funds have been used exactly as allocated through the Crowdfunder, particularly those that were for workshops and donating boxes to the vulnerable women we work with. With this, we have already managed to conduct 3 workshops, 2 period clinics and give out 9 boxes, each with a reusable sanitary product.
We are solely putting Monthly Hugs on hold for the next few months due to the huge amount of resource needed to create each month’s Monthly Hug. As a small not-for-profit with only a few members of staff, we have taken the strategic decision to put our energy into forwarding the Tackling Period Poverty Programme for the time being until funding or a partner is established for Monthly Hugs.
If you love the Monthly Hugs idea and would be interested in becoming a subscriber in the future after we re-launch please submit your email here . Please note this is non-binding and your details will not be shared with any third-parties.
The more people we have register their interest the more likely we are to be successful in our search for external funding and/or a partner to take on Monthly Hugs.
Once again, we would like to thank you for all of your support and we are really sorry that we can’t keep Monthly Hugs going at the moment, but we promise we will do everything we can to get it up and running again in the near future.
If you have any comments, concerns, questions or feedback please get in touch with Chloe .
We’ve been working really hard to understand how we can make a positive, long-lasting change to vulnerable people that menstruate, through engaging with community groups, talking to individuals, and putting the people that we’re trying to help at the heart of our project planning and development. In the process, we’ve met amazing people along the way – individuals with inspiring stories, and people who are working really hard to improve the lives of those in the local community, making Bristol a more inclusive, friendly and liveable city for those who struggle the most.
May was a really important month for our Tackling Period Poverty project. We have been developing sustainable lasting methods to tackle period poverty and change attitudes about periods, as well as ensuring these ways are delivered in a manner that is effective and useful for the people we work with. A few weeks ago, we delivered our first workshop with the women who attend Bristol Drugs Project’s women’s morning! This marked the start of our work with vulnerable groups to tackle period poverty.
We were really happy with our first workshop – but hey, don’t hear it just from us! Here’s what Becky, women’s morning’s lead Engagement Worker, had to say:
“ The workshop went really well! It’s quite a controversial topic, and to start off with, both clients and staff were a little bit sceptical about how it was going to go – it’s a bit of a difficult topic after all! However, the workshop did everything it said on the tin, and more. It was a really appropriate workshop for a women’s group. It helped break down the taboo around speaking about periods, and it really brought us all together.
In the weeks following the workshop, women attending the group have been a lot more open to talking about their health and periods, and they had been thinking a lot about the social issues surrounding periods, such as issues of affordability and sustainability, and how they can make a change in their lives. Our clients have come back asking questions, exploring different options available to them and really interested in swopping to a reusable sanitary product to save them money.
The activities that were in the workshop were really interesting and different – they were eye-opening, educational and practical. They helped us to think about women’s health more broadly, and made everyone really relaxed about opening up and speaking within the group setting.
The workshop had benefits beyond that of informing clients about periods – it really helped me in my role with working with vulnerable women. It taught me a lot about the issues surrounding period poverty and now I feel a lot more confident talking to women about their menstrual health. Not only has it been an informative session, but we feel closer as a group, making women feel more comfortable to engage in future sessions”.
What’s next for our work with Bristol Drugs Project? We’re going to be returning to the women’s morning and running a Period Clinic – one to one sessions with women who are wanting to switch to reusable products, talking them through the options and answering any questions or concerns that they have. We have got funding from Lush Charity Pot and the People’s Postcode Trust to run these workshops and supply women with reusable sanitary products – providing them with a sustainable solution to period poverty, without having to worry each month about buying tampons, relying on food banks, or going completely without.
So what's next? Our work is going to continue into the summer, with collaborations with Crisis Centre Ministries, Refugee Women of Bristol, Avonmouth Community Centre, and the Homeless Period Gloucestershire, and many more in the making! We’re not only excited to continue with our workshops, but also increase our reach beyond the city of Bristol into surrounding areas.
If you’d like to donate to the project, we’ve just launched a Crowdfunder for our new product, all the profits of which will go straight into funding Tackling Period Poverty! Check it out here , and the video below!
Research suggests that if my boyfriend and I were to walk into a hospital with the same agonizing mystery condition, his pain would be taken much more seriously than mine . In fact, 36% of women feel like their pain is ignored, dismissed or just not taken seriously by healthcare professionals. Now, I’m not saying that all doctors or nurses ignore women’s pain, and I’m certainly not suggesting that those who do, do so on purpose. But, there is a growing body of research that indicates that some women are not given the medical attention that they need because of gender bias. For example, an American study found that in comparison to men, women are considerably less likely to have their pain taken seriously, and medical professionals are more likely to hold back on treatment for women until after objective evidence into the cause of pain has been found.
And this isn’t a problem that just exists across the pond: a recent study on endometriosis carried out by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women’s Health uncovered a shocking set of statistics. Although endometriosis has life-changing symptoms , such as debilitating pain, 40% were only referred to a gynaecologist after seeing their doctor at least 10 times and 42% said that their doctors had shown them no dignity or respect throughout the course of their diagnosis. Despite affecting nearly 2 million women in the UK and leaving suffers at risk of severe health problems , such as reduced fertility rates and increased likelihood of depression, endometriosis has publicly been labelled a “garbage bag disorder” by Doctor Drew. And it’s not just celebrity doctors who don’t take endometriosis seriously: women of all backgrounds and ages recall being told that it’s all in their head, that they’re a hypochondriac, that they just need to toughen up, that they’re being over-emotional, that that’s just how a women’s body works.
The question of whether women should receive ‘period leave’ has been a hot topic of debate ever since Dr Grudzinkas said that it would boost a woman’s motivation and productivity in the workplace. But would being given up to three days a month of paid ‘period leave’ help to break down menstrual taboos? Or will it make things worse?
I’m totally guilty of it – stuffing a sanitary pad up my sleeve so that I don’t have to walk past my colleagues with it in view. Never, ever wearing light coloured clothes when I’m on my period, just in case I end up with blood stains on my clothes. And refusing to take sick leave because I don’t want to have to tell anyone that it’s my time of the month, even if my cramps are so bad I can’t stand up properly. So will ‘period leave’ help us talk more openly about menstruation and go some towards stopping many of the stigmas that surround it?
Last year, Bristol based Coexist made the headlines after announcing that they were going to bring in a “period policy” that would allow those suffering from painful periods to time off of work without declaring it as sick leave. Although the policy was introduced to make Coexist more work efficient, less than 6 months after it was introduced, staff reported that period embarrassment had become a thing of the past within the office environment. Women spoke freely about their periods and shared with their colleagues what stage in their cycle they were at. By encouraging female staff to mirror their workloads to their natural bodily cycles, Coexist employers felt like menstrual taboos had been combatted in their office.
So ‘period leave’ can’t be a bad thing, right?
Well, some believe that it is. That’s because not everyone thinks that ‘period leave’ will help to tackle menstrual stigma. By taking a day or two off from work to rest, some worry that women will be seen as ‘weak’ and unable to cope with the way that their bodies naturally function. We’ve been fighting for years for equal recognition in the workplace, and submitting to our bodies in such a way could undo the rights that we’ve won over the decades.
Some worry that such a policy will result in society taking three steps backward, and bosses will once again feel like discriminatory ‘favouring’ is justified just as it once was because of women taking maternity leave. Female employers who don’t take ‘period leave’, along with their male counterparts, will be favoured over those who do choose to take the time off, increasing the stigmas attached to menstruation. A ‘period policy’ would be counterproductive and would actually make it harder for women suffering from painful periods to take the time off they need.
And others argue that encouraging women to stay at home when on their periods will push talk about periods even further behind doors – out of sight out of mind, after all.
It seems that the debate cannot be easily solved. What is clear, however, is that we should be working towards demystifying periods and making sure that no woman is made to feel ashamed or embarrassed. Unfortunately, the question of whether this will be achieved by a national ‘period policy’ is much harder to answer.
What do you think? Comment below and let us know your thoughts!