Guest Blog written by the team at OAM MMU...
As a child at school in the late 90s/00s ‘period’ was on the level of swearing with the shock it
would enact to say out loud- followed as always as if biologically programmed by
‘Ewwwwwws’ from other children. But it isn’t programmed, no one is born thinking something is shameful or icky, we were socialised this way. As I grew older ‘period’ would be thrown around as an insult to explain, for you, why you didn’t laugh at a sexist joke, or react in the way a person may have wanted- ‘What’s wrong with you, you on your period or something?’, a not so new upgrade of ‘You look prettier when you smile’ that added shame to having periods. But looking back the most disappointing and worst of all, was the sex education we received. In school we were separated by gender into different rooms and each showed a video. To this day have no idea what the others were shown but as ‘females’ got an interesting mash-up of vague period facts, lots of insinations to stay away from sex entirely (the word reputation thrown around lots disappointingly) and Cleopatra singing Cleopatra coming at ya, as if they were the figureheads of sex education we needed. It was a mess, and pointless as we learnt nothing, just got Cleopatra stuck in our heads.
When Netflixs’ Orange is the New Black aired ‘A Whole Other Hole’ on the 6th June 2014, it
went viral as the characters talked about how the lower female anatomy has three holes; the
urethra, vagina and anus, surprising a large majority of people who thought that there were
only two 1 . Which would mean you peed out of your vagina and that is an err.. interesting
theory but what it highlights is the lack of education we have about our own bodies. How can we help, nurture or even be in control of something we don’t understand or even know about? It shouldn’t be down to entertainment, or our own googling to learn these facts about ourselves. The science is there, the knowledge is there, it just isn’t being passed along at the right times or to the right people. It is important though, for shows like Orange is the New Black and Sex Education more recently, to show these realistic portrayals of the more taboo topics in society as it opens a discourse, as shown with the three holes.
What a lack of education also creates is dispondance, and that’s where I feel our country is,
or at least was very recently, when it comes to periods, menstruation and period poverty.
Austerity, lack of education and a lack of education amongst non-menstruators about the
subject have amalgamated in the dire situation the UK is in today. Only recently has the tax
on sanitary products been abolished, as they were finally deemed a necessity from the 1st
January 2021. Change doesn’t seem to be moving fast enough. Which is why I joined Once
a Month to start the project at Manchester Metropolitan as OAM is now countrywide after
originating a few years ago at Manchester University. We aim to help eradicate period
poverty, while also bringing attention to the issues that surround period poverty. We feel it is the right of menstruators to have access to products.
We all know the awkwardness that comes with periods, from the cleanliness aspects to
leaking, to paranoia about leaking, to the pain and knock that this can have on your well-
being and mood. But the privilege most of us are afforded in those situations is a hot shower, the ability to buy tampons, pads, medication- chocolate! A warm bed to lie in and the support of friends or family. It is unimaginable how it must feel to go through this every month alone, in poverty, or while also experiencing homelessness. With Once a Month we’re hoping that by opening these conversations and providing products we can ensure that no one feels alone, with somewhere they can receive information and sanitary products.
A study by Plan International Uk shows that In England, 1 in 10 people can’t afford to buy
menstrual products, while 1 in 7 have struggled to afford them, (data from a representative
survey of 1,000 menstruators aged 14-21) 2 . Meaning that people are living in poverty, in an
unnecessary shame with nowhere to turn. They’re missing education days, work, social
events, life- because of a natural monthly occurrence, and it really shouldn’t be this way.
But where does period poverty come from? Financial constraints, the patriarchy- the economy, the rising price in products while wages stay the same or lower, all contribute to whether someone can access sanitary products for themselves. Intersectionality impacts the ability to access these products even further, as over the national lockdown for Covid-19 it was reported, ‘the number of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) workers in employment fell by 5.3 percent, compared with a 0.2 percent fall among white workers’ 3 . Unemployment pushes people into greater poverty, limiting their access to sanitary products as well as medications and toiletries, again forcing BAME menstruators to miss out on aspects of life.
With Once a Month we aim to help provide access for anyone who needs it across
Manchester. To do this we have monthly meetings (these will restart when we physically can) to create packs containing pads, tampons, wipes, shower gel and chocolate- we are working on adding a different donated treat to the packs each month too. Once we have our packs they are delivered to women’s shelters, charities and homeless shelters for anyone to access. When universities are open again there will be a safe place at MMU where students can access free packs. In the future we are hoping to expand to supplying schools and local safe spaces like libraries so that anyone anywhere can access sanitary products. After lockdown ends there will be a designated drop-off area in MMU where we can accept donations of products from the public. We also work with companies like Bodyform who sent a generous donation of pads to us! Please get in contact if you would like to be a part of Once a Month at MMU, have any fundraising ideas or wish to donate!
We @theperiodtalks really admire the work OAM are doing up and down the country to help eliminate period poverty, not only in homelessness, but also amongst students and the wider community. Find out more on their instagram pages, see if there is a OAM at your university!