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It’s either lunch or a tampon

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By Kaylen Forsyth

What could easily be mistaken as the dismal opening to some generic dystopian fiction is actually a common reality for over 1.2 billion women across the globe. Yes, you read that figure correctly. You can put down your cup of coffee and rub your eyes as much as you want – the figure won’t change. At least a billion women on this planet do not have access to basic sanitation, which means when they menstruate every month, they endure with little to no period products. And it isn’t just an issue exclusive to women; many trans men and non-binary people are also living with the brutal reality of period poverty as well.

Whether you’re somebody who has periods or not – just imagine being in such a wretched position that you have to suffer circa six to seven days of bleeding without the necessary products to ensure not only hygiene and dignity, but also basic health and safety.

More and more people are unable to afford sanitary items like pads and tampons during their period. This puts them in an unimaginable position each month and it’s not like they get a month off where they don’t have to worry about this problem. It’s a constant source of distress and anxiety. Ceaseless.

Nobody should have to make the decision between buying some tampons or buying lunch- but so many people are forced with that choice. In Kenya as high as 50% of school-age girls cannot afford period products. What’s even more harrowing is that 1 in 10 Kenyan teenage girls (aged 15 years) have had to engage in sexual acts in order to receive the money to buy sanitary products. A similar situation is happening in India with 12% of over 350 million menstruating people unable to afford products.

However, this isn’t an issue exclusive to developing nations. It’s prevalent in British society as well. And of course, it isn’t just an issue exclusive to women. As many as 1 in 10 young people in the United Kingdom can’t afford either pads or tampons at some point in their lives.

Those of us who can afford such necessary items when the time comes take that for granted. I’ve complained about the cost of period products at times because it’s a degrading outrage, but I’ve rarely stopped to question the wider ramifications and how other people in a less fortunate position than myself might be affected.

A regular packet of tampons costs between £2 to £3. During a monthly period the average person will use around two packets meaning the ridiculous cost of around £6. That’s six pounds just to go through a natural (unstoppable) bodily function with at least some element of cleanliness and dignity. This doesn’t even factor in the cost of painkillers for those who might suffer from severe pains and cramps.

Given the soaring levels of poverty in this country, it’s obvious that mass amounts of people just cannot afford this, which is why so many women, particularly those living on the streets, go without food during their period. It’s either lunch or a tampon.

Period poverty has always been a major issue. For as long as there’s been poverty, there have been menstruating women desperately trying to get through their time of the month as best they can. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the 2016 Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake that the gravity of period poverty really hit home. The film showed a harrowing scene in which a poor single mother reaches her wit’s end and shoplifts sanitary pads because they’re priced way higher than she can afford. According to RightsInfo, following the release of I, Daniel Blake at least 15 food banks reported a significant increase in the donation of period-related items. This highlights a remarkable sense of both compassion and empathy sparked within the public consciousness, with the potential to grow bigger.

With the Tories in government since 10BC, there has been a substantial surge in the use of food banks. Austerity has meant that in the year of 2016/17 charities handed out up to 1.2 million emergency food parcels. Intense poverty such as this leaves younger people fighting the brunt end. Whether it’s the children of poor families or young people attempting independence away from their parents or carers, poverty hits them with a force. Because of decreasing levels of benefit income, families that include children are more likely to live in harsh poverty. Inevitably this means young girls and women are economising on the number of tampons they use during a period. This runs the risk of infection and the sometimes-fatal toxic shock syndrome.

This risk is enormous for homeless women. Those who do manage to purchase or get a hold of pads and tampons do so at the expense of their own nutritional health, sometimes not eating for days on end. To make the products last, they rip up sanitary pads to create makeshift tampons. On the other hand, women who haven’t been able to get access to any products at all must use alternative methods. For example – toilet paper, cotton balls, paper bags, plastic bags, newspaper and magazines, make-up pads, socks, ripped pieces of clothing. Basically, whatever is available in bins or on the street or what they already own.

The fact that there is a myriad of women in this kind of rock and a hard place position in our country is simply unacceptable. The truth of period poverty serves as a disturbing symptom of wider social issues brought about by a callous government of austerity and apathy. We need to display our anger at a government content to let women suffer in this way, without hygiene and dignity. We need to voice our outrage and empathy, to combat cool indifference.

There is an unjustified stigma attached to menstruation. Surely society will benefit from dismantling the taboo surrounding periods. Isn’t it time we stop shying away? We should keep an ongoing dialogue about it with the hope of making more people aware of period poverty – to work towards making sanitary items available for everyone. After all, it’s not a privilege but a basic human right to feel clean and dignified.

Ways to help:

You can donate or get more information from-

http://thehomelessperiod.com/

https://www.bloodygoodperiod.com/#intro

https://www.change.org/p/theresa-may-mp-free-menstrual-products-for-all-children-on-free-school-meals-freeperiods

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-hampshire-43148080/period-poverty-helping-homeless-and-vulnerable-women

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/19/british-girls-period-poverty-menstruation-sanitary-products

https://www.studyinternational.com/news/period-poverty-hinders-childrens-education-globally/

And donating sanitary products to your local foodbanks and homeless shelters helps too!

My bloody menstrual cycle

Author:
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By Christiana Paradis

This article was inspired by the Huffington Post article, No I’m Not Going to Hide My Tampon From You” written by: Madeline Wahl

In middle school, we called them fruit roll ups. We’d draw a friend in close and whisper as though we were about to share the most sacred thing ever, “Do you have a fruit roll up? I didn’t know I was getting it today!” In middle school we couldn’t even utter the word tampon, the fact that we needed to start using them for that thing that happened once a month was so new and awkward and because of the fear of not knowing who else had theirs yet, we had to be very careful with our word choice. At the time, I was so afraid, fearful and ashamed. I do what down there every month? But there was hope. I’d grow up and since all women bleed once month it would have to get normal at some point, right?

WRONG. I’m twenty-six and even though I couldn’t care less about shouting it from the rooftops when I have my period, unfortunately I’m living in a world where women are still ashamed and feel like they need to whisper when they need a tampon, pad, menstrual cup or whatever else they use. Still living in a world where, “It seems like common sense — like, why wouldn’t you hold a tampon on the way to the bathroom instead of shoving it up your sleeve, sliding it in your back pocket, or bringing your whole purse with you, wallet, cell phone, keys and all?” (Wahl, 2015) Yes, we still feel we have to hide our feminine hygiene products instead of carry them to the bathroom.

We all bleed. And we do so because our bodies give LIFE, so why the secrecy? Why the shame? Well what does society tell us? A couple of years ago in TX we were told by lawmakers that tampons were contraband, but guns — they were a-ok. And how could we forget Rupi Kaur whose photo was taken down by Instagram twice because of featuring menstrual blood?

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I mean c’mon who HASN’T this happened to? So who sets those community guidelines anyway, because 50% of your users can totally relate! Furthermore, tampon companies continue to profit off producing the same products they’ve always had, but now in NEW! DISCREET! PACAKAGING!

It infuriates me that we can’t talk about menstrual health, not only in the United States, but across the world, and that this shame takes on such epic proportions that it disrupts women’s access to menstrual hygiene products. As the Guardian reported, “Girls in rural Uganda miss up to eight days of study each school term because they are on their periods…this is due to lack of washrooms, lack of sanitary pads and bullying by peers. This eight days translates into 11% of total learning days a year”.

On May 28th, Menstrual Hygiene Day, WaterAid launched a YouTube campaign entitled “If Men Had Periods,” which included two videos that not only aimed to raise awareness of the issue, but also to critique a society that shames a woman’s menstrual cycle but would celebrate a man’s, if they were capable.

In 2015, ALL women should have access to free menstrual hygiene products. ALL women should feel like they can talk about menstrual hygiene in public spaces without being ashamed. ALL women should be free to walk, run, dance, or tango to the bathroom, tampon in hand without fear. ALL women should know that our bodies do amazing things and yeah it gets messy from time to time, but it does so for the sake of creating life. Well, I’m off because it’s time for me to change MY tampon and no that rant wasn’t “just because I’m PMSing.”

Tampon Run

Author:

By Emily Zhang

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Two girls have just made one of the coolest games ever. It’s anti-gun violence, pro-talking about periods, and pro-women in STEM. I never thought these three topics could be cohesively connected, and yet Tampon Run is so stunningly simple.  With nostalgic arcade-game vibes, Tampon Run was created as a final project for Girls Who Code, and allows players to get enemies out of the way with tampons. Here, I ask Sophie and Andy some questions about their game:

EMILY: I love how this game points out that society has accepted violence in entertainment, but a lot of people still don’t like to talk about periods. Did you guys always plan to create a game like Tampon Run, or was the idea more of a whim? What were peoples’ general reactions? How do you think discussing menstruation could be made more accessible?

SOPHIE: Andy and I made Tampon Run as our final project for Girls Who Code. Andy wanted to make a video game that created some sort of social change. I liked the idea of using coding to make a social difference, so I joined her. While brainstorming, Ijokingly suggested that we could make a game where a girl threw tampons. As soon as I said it, we realized there was something there. Through our own experience and research, we know there truly is a menstrual taboo, and we were excited by the prospect of confronting it through the game. People, both men and women, all around the world have been so supportive and positive about Tampon Run. It’s incredible that this seemingly simple game has resonated with so many people. The game combines a serious subject with humor, which is why I think it’s so accessible.

ANDY: I didn’t really think of Tampon Run per se, but while I was at Girls Who Code I definitely brought up the idea of creating a video game with a social message and/or feminist twist. I was actually thinking more along the lines of hypersexualization of women in video games (which is a very legitimate issue and should still be addressed). I had made a game as an English project about the Odyssey, which pointed out how all the women in the epic just slept with Odysseus. Or were evil. Or both. I really had a great time doing it, and I wanted to go all out with another video game. Sophie joked about being able to throw tampons in our game, but as soon as she said it we knew that was the game we wanted to develop. People all over the world have been so supportive of the game! There’s been the occasional hate mail or hate post, but it’s completely overwhelmed by the amount of positive feedback we’ve gotten. I think our game helps menstruation become more accessible, but we also hope to generate discussion about menstruation, and have people look into organizations which help women all over the world deal with menstruating.

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EMILY: I noticed that this game was created for a Girls Who Code project. How did you feel about the program in regards to getting more girls involved in STEM? Was it a mix of empowerment and coding lessons?

SOPHIE: Girls Who Code is an incredible program. I learned not only how to code, but I also became more confident, a better team player and a better public speaker. It was through learning to code that I learned those essential soft skills. It was empowering to build something from the ground up, and witness your code work (whether that meant watch the fish you programmed swim across the screen or playing a few rounds of Tampon Run). I also had to get up and present my code to the other girls in the program even when it didn’t work, even when I had “failed”. However, I learned that “failing” was not a bad thing in the least; instead it was an opportunity to learn and try again. I encourage every girl to learn to code, whether that be via a class at school, an online resource or a Girls Who Code club or summer program.

ANDY: Yes, it was a mix of the two! I’ve been coding for a while–I attended SummerTech Computer Camps for two years before applying to Girls Who Code. I was a bit skeptical and nervous about spending 7 weeks with 19 other girls, but it really has paid off. I primarily wanted to go to GWC for the networking opportunities, as there are incredible people who come into our class to speak, but I got so much more out of that. Especially in terms of developing my soft skills–my ability to market myself, my products, and become a lot more articulate and concise. Recently, all over the world, there’s been a big emphasis on the lack of girls in tech. I think this definitely needs to be addressed, in order to add more diversity and better the industry. But I also think we need to advertise how supportive and welcoming the existing community of women in tech is; maybe it will help encourage girls to take that first step.

 

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