Bleedin’ Saor: tackling period poverty and stigma

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Bleedin’ Saor logo. (Photo credit: Bleedin’ Saor)

Menstruation. TOM (Time of the month, FYI). The blob. Mother Nature’s gift. Whatever you call periods, they are sore. And bloody. Bloody sore, actually.

Aptly so then, that a non-profit student organisation that aims to dispel period poverty and stigma is called Bleedin’ Saor. Founders Brogan Henderson, Hannah Stevens and Sam Calder feel the name is perfect, both for the obvious nod to a woman’s monthly cramp-laden cycle and as saor translates to ‘free, without barriers’ in Gaelic.

Bleedin’ Saor is the design and social media branch of the collaborative A Bloody Big Project that includes Hey Girls – who are a buy one give one social enterprise – innovative marking team at Wire Media and the Bloody Big Brunch event enterprise.

The three Edinburgh Napier Product Design students have been commissioned with the task of designing dispensing stations to replace the ever-so appealing shabby cupboards that currently stock the free sanitary products at all three campuses. Tucked out of sight and reach, advertised with a singular poster limply hanging on by one pin, the current cupboards hardly help discourage the stigma and fail to make the products conveniently accessible.

Bleedin’ Saor and the university are keen to change that.

Next week, Hannah, Brogan and Sam will be trialling temporary sanitary stations to gage a public reaction, in order to design the ideal final solution. They have designed open, basket-like dispensing stations and hope for the final solutions to be situated at locations that have 24-hour multiple access points. Their goal is to bring freeness to a woman’s period – both in terms of cost and shame.

“There’s nothing wrong with the products being there, they don’t have to be hidden,” says Hannah. “We’ve focused on making it so that the products are there and where you can see them – we want people to get used to the fact that this is a normal thing.”

“It’s ridiculous there is still a stigma. Half the population experiences this and it’s a completely normal thing that women experience for 40 plus years of their lives,” says Brogan.

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Hannah, Sam and Brogan. (Photo credit: Rachel Lee)

Bleedin’ Saor also runs a social media campaign that invites people to leave their period stories, ask questions and banish the embarrassment.

“We want people to be able to celebrate their period, which is what we’re doing with our Period Blether project – its’ getting people to talk about it. A lot of people already have shared stories on our website,” says Brogan.

Periods are natural. Unavoidable. Uncomfortable. In a lifetime, a woman will endure around 450 periods and will lose about 12 teaspoons of blood during each cycle. A woman can find her periods to be painful and inconvenient; they needn’t be shameful and costly too.

The Scottish Government took a significant step in the long road to gender equality last year by pledging £5 million towards free sanitary products in all schools, colleges and universities. However, there is still work to be done to ensure that period poverty becomes a thing of the past.

Part of doing so, is opening up honest discussions about periods to all genders. By encouraging it to be universally viewed as a natural, taboo-less fact of life, it will hopefully allow products to be easily accessible and readily available.

“The biggest thing is that we want to raise awareness of it we want people to be comfortable enough to have that conversation” says Brogan.

Hannah adds, “It’s astounding that period poverty still exists in 2019. We have learnt so much since joining the project. We didn’t realise how big it was and that 1 in 5 girls in Scotland are not able to have access to products and therefore missing out in school and their friends by not having access to everything that they need.”

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Sam working on designs. (Photo credit: Bleedin’ Saor)

They hope that, with the new and improved sanitary stations, people will make full use of the free products.

“We don’t want you to just take one product as you need it, take enough to last you your whole period,” says Brogan.

The team say that the university has been greatly supportive of them. University leaders have supported the student’s designs and upcoming installations of the dispensary stations and have provided funding for a trip to Uganda this summer in which the students will observe the social aspects of periods and the design of reusable products.

Napier University has also allowed Bleedin’ Saor to host three across-campus Bloody Big Brunches on March 6th. The team will soon begin fundraising for the event which will welcome people to come together to chat all things period over everyone’s favourite mid-morning meal.

Whatever campus, whatever gender – Bleedin’ Saor is an organisation everyone should get behind.

You can support Bleedin Saor by following their Instagram @bleedinsaor and leaving feedback on the temporary sanitary stations from the 4th February onwards.

How the UK is continuing its fight against period poverty

Spearheaded by Scotland, a new campaign has launched in England in a bid to provide free menstrual products for school children. But how is the UK continuing its fight against period poverty in 2019?

Period poverty is a very private struggle for women throughout the UK and quantifying its extent has been a challenge.

While many charities are working in developing countries such as Kenya — where period poverty is a known issue, thousands of women and girls across Scotland are experiencing the effects of period poverty right on our doorstep, with serious implications on their education and health.

In the UK, the world’s fifth largest economy, one in ten women cannot afford sanitary pads or tampons. Although some would argue that these products cost very little, ​it is also true that not all products are suitable for or accessible to everyone. 

We often forget that in areas where young women and girls are living in poverty, menstrual products are not at the top of their priority list, when eating enough to stay alive and keeping warm are everyday battles in themselves.   

As a student, even I begrudge paying the few monthly pounds for a box of tampons, but to young girls without their own income or financial support system, this natural and biological function has a much more drastic impact and can often result in them missing out on school. 

However, crucial steps are being made in Scotland to address the bloody reality head on. 

The country’s current pilot scheme offers access to free period products to low-income families, and in August 2018, the Scottish government announced it was becoming the first national government to provide free access to products in all schools, colleges and universities. 

The advancement followed the country’s decision to roll out free sanitary products for low income women and households.

Scottish labour MSP, Monica Lennon, called on the government to go one step further and make Scotland a “world-leader in tackling period poverty” by introducing a universal system.

“I welcomed the announcement that the Scottish Government would fund free period products in schools, colleges and universities however there is much more to be done.

“Access to period products should be a right, regardless of income, which is why I am continuing to move ahead with plans for legislation to introduce a universal system of free access to period products for everyone in Scotland,” she said. 

It was back in 2016 that Lennon first asked the Scottish Government if any consideration had been given to the affordability of period products and from then her campaign was born.

“The boundaries of the current roll out by the Scottish Government means that the stigma which surrounds menstruation is still able to exist, I want to see that disappear.

“Period products should be as easy to access for free as toilet roll and hand wash and my campaign won’t end until that is the case,” she explains.

While Scotland is setting a precedent for other countries and their approach to period poverty, England has thus far failed to follow suit. 

In London alone 80,000 young women and girls are impacted by period poverty. In the last year, an announcement came from Westminster that ​£1.5 million of the tampon tax​ fund would be given to charities to address period poverty but change is yet to be seen. 

Nineteen-year-old activist and founder of the #freeperiod campaign, Amika George, is now leading the fight against period poverty by launching a legal campaign to get the British government to provide free menstrual products in schools just as Scotland has.  With hopes of bringing England up to speed, ​the fundraising page set up by George, which has a target of £10,000 by February 7, has had more than £6,500 donated by hundreds of people since the campaign launched in early January. 

#freeperiod campaign video:

In her interview with the Evening Standard, George expressed how prevalent the issue of period poverty remains, and how determined she is on tackling it in 2019. “​Equal access to education is a fundamental human right and no one should miss school because they cannot afford pads and tampons. These products must be provided for free in every school and college,” she stated. 

With 2018 being named ‘year of the women’, we can only hope that 2019 will hold even greater things for women’s rights. 

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