Jessica Pearson is a member of the IGNITE team at VANEL and over the past six months has been leading on a number of projects with young people around period poverty, stigma around periods and environmental impacts of sanitary products. Here Jess describes the projects she’s been doing, the progress made and what’s next.
This is very topical, as in the recent Chancellors Spring Statement there was a very specific success hidden amongst all the economic messages. He said:
“… in response to rising concern by Headteachers that some girls are missing school attendance due to inability to afford sanitary products, I have decided to fund the provision of free sanitary products in secondary schools and colleges in England from the next school year.”
Jessica describes what she’s been doing:
Since the Women’s Environmental Network’s (WEN) week of action in October 2018, I have been running hourly sessions at Grimsby Institute called Environmenstrual. This is the name WEN have given their campaign that deals with some of the health concerns around mainstream period products (e.g. pads and tampons) and the amount of plastic that is in these products.
During these sessions I talk about what can potentially be in these products which is not disclosed on the packaging, such as pesticides and I also talk about the percentage of plastic in products (e.g. pads are 90% plastic), where all of these single use products are going and the effects that they are having on our environment. I hand out Anglian Water leaflets and discuss why it’s important not to put unflushable items down the toilet.
I then talk about period poverty and what this means for people that menstruate that can’t afford products to manage their period. I include why it can be dangerous for girls to use improvised materials (can lead to infections) and why period poverty is a gender inequality issue due to missing school and education from it.
I finish the session by discussing the stigma around periods and ask if young people think there is a stigma around it, e.g. are they embarrassed about periods? do have they ever felt shame about it? do they think period poverty is a male issue as well?
Using the Tampon Tax Community Grant
In December 2018 I was granted funding to put period products on the YPSS youth bus which I started in January. The funding is from the Lincolnshire Community Foundation as part of the Tampon Tax Community Grant.
As part of this, I also offer the girls a space in which they can talk to me about any worries they have around the stigma of periods or any other issues they feel that they can’t talk to other people about. The funders also want me to encourage young people to visit sexual health services. I also talk to them about what period poverty is and how that can affect girls. I also tell them about different period products that are available rather than just pads and tampons. One of my main aims around this project is to help girls or young people that menstruate to feel comfortable speaking about their periods especially if they have any questions. Whilst the girls are happy to talk about it when they are in a group they are self-conscious being in smaller groups or on their own. It is also difficult sometimes to get them to accept the products as they see this as a sign of them being poor.
Both of these initiative are ongoing and have allowed me to connect with the right young people. I’m really pleased that there has been progress recently to provide sanitary products within schools and I hope that scheme works as it should.
If you would like to follow up with Jess then please contact her at VANEL/IGNITE via firstname.lastname@example.org or 01472 315437