Opinion

Let's chat periods

07 November 2019

CEO and founder of Bloody Good Period Gabby Edlin is on a mission to ensure period equality (and more). Aviva Attias meets her…

Gabby’s passion and drive to get things done is infectious. We meet just after her well-received session on period equality at the Unite-CPHVA Annual Professional Conference. She told delegates she had unexpectedly got her period that morning and needed a tampon. She tells me that’s not something she could have been so open about when the charity first started.

Gabby founded her charity Bloody Good Period three years ago. She was volunteering at a drop-in centre for asylum seekers and noticed period products were only seen as emergency items. ‘I was like, no that’s not how this works – periods are every month,’ says Gabby. She asked friends and family to donate via Facebook, got an overwhelming response, and the rest is history.

The charity now provides menstrual products to those who can’t afford them, largely asylum seekers and refugees, but also homeless women. They also give long-term menstrual education to those less likely to access it. These sessions give women ‘the drive to talk about periods, menopause, childbirth and infertility’, says Gabby. ‘All the things that they’re “not supposed to talk about”.’

Gabby’s gone from running the charity alongside a day job to working on it full-time, with four part-time staff, ‘amazing’ volunteers and a board of trustees.

The mission

Through the charity work to end period poverty, Gabby hopes the government will eventually fund the supply of menstrual products to those who can’t afford them. The charity also has the goal of normalising periods. ‘I don’t believe we should be delivering pads to people in this day and age – there is money to do that in the government. We will continue to give to people for as long as we are needed to, but normalisation will play a huge part in us not having to do that.’

She continues: ‘Really quickly I realised it couldn’t just be about delivery, it couldn’t just be about logistics. It has to be about breaking stigma, about having the conversation, not letting other people be awkward about it, and about changing the way society view periods and women’s bodies.’

It’s normalisation that Gabby believes is the answer to gaining period equality.

‘I hope that this time next year we should be where mental health is. I think in, say, five to 10 years’ time, we should be at the point where talking about periods is like talking about having a cold.’  

Gabby says the conversation is changing so rapidly, in a positive direction, that she’s already had to rewrite her strategy.

‘Our strategy two years ago was to get the government involved, and now they are.’

But why are we waiting?

‘The idea that female bodies aren’t seen as equal to male bodies is so ridiculous, yet it’s the only way of understanding why we don’t have equality in menstruation,’ she says.

‘People whose bodies menstruate are still seen as having this condition, this burden, this something that has to be hidden. That is what we are battling with at the end of the day.’

It’s little wonder then that there’s a stigma attached to reusable period products. ‘They’re still seen as dirty,’ says Gabby. ‘Yet there have been so many strides and innovations in period products. Period pants, for instance, or cups are amazing.

‘But it’s easy for me to chat about periods, I need everybody else to talk about it too.’

Does she think there is a gender health gap, then? ‘Absolutely. Race adds to it, too. It’s really important to remember that women of colour are suffering even harder because they are less likely to be believed to be in pain by their doctors.’ 

‘The idea that female bodies aren’t seen as equal to male bodies is so ridiculous, yet it’s the only way of understanding why we don’t have equality in menstruation’

What’s being done?

Around six months ago, three government task forces were set up on periods. One on period poverty – ‘by the time the journal is printed, I might have got my way so it would be called period equality,’ says Gabby – one on stigma and one on research. ‘We are convening the access stream of the task force. We’re working with experts, businesses, the PHS group that supplies tampons in public toilets, and other period charities who work with different groups of people. We’re creating an options report for the government that says this is how access to period products should be.’

What’s her view on government plans to give free period products to school pupils in 2020?

‘They’d better do it properly!’ she says. ‘I don’t want to sound too critical, but I would urge everyone to keep a close eye on it. It’s easy for the government to sweep it under the carpet because something more important like Brexit comes up. Periods still happen even with Brexit.’

Gabby highlights it’s not just girls who should be the focus.

‘It’s also women, trans men, non-binary people, the homeless. Men and boys, too. It’s boys picking up pads from their schools for their mums. It’s such a huge issue, and although the conversation has really moved on, there is still this huge silence around it, a deliberate indifference.’


About Gabby  

  • Gabby, 33, is originally from Manchester and now lives with one of her three sisters (the other two live nearby) in north-west London.  
  • The biggest lesson she’s learned since starting the charity is to ‘trust your gut’.  
  • Her drive comes from ‘the absolute farcical injustice of it all… I think female anger is an incredible force and it doesn’t have to be a negative thing. I use it daily.’  
  • She relaxes by spending time with her sisters, eating out with her boyfriend, and by just switching off (literally) – no emails and no Instagram.

How can CPs help?

‘I think a huge thing that health visitors can do is use the correct anatomy terms to get mums used to it,’ says Gabby. ‘Use “vagina” and “vulva” rather than “your bits” so if women and girls have pain or discomfort, they can label the correct parts. And ask yourself if you’re using a euphemism because it’s funny or you’re uncomfortable.’

Gabby says there are lots of free downloadable resources and posters on periods (see Resources, below). ‘If you’re giving the talk as a school nurse, have it just for girls first, so they feel comfortable, but there has to be the same education for boys.’

Also, make sure money for period products in the workplace comes out of the budget. ‘Group together, form a committee. There’s no need to be ashamed in asking for things we need. Periods are not a weakness.’

The future

What’s Gabby’s ultimate vision? Along with government funding period supplies to those who need it, she says: ‘It’s re-education of what it means to take care of your period. Not to manage it out of sight, but to be able to have it and not be ashamed of it. And for people who can’t afford it, for their periods not to make their life worse.’

To this end, the charity’s education programme is growing, and it is also in the process of developing Bloody Good Employers. As the name suggests, it’s is about guiding workplaces to offer women a ‘bloody good experience’ when they’re on their period. It is also doing more research.  

‘Basically, there’ll be campaigns to get people normalising periods all over the shop,’ says Gabby. ‘I know that I can make a change here, and I’m going to crack on until it’s done.’


Resources  

  • Find out more about Gabbby’s charity and donate at bloodygoodperiod.com  
  • Brook provides wellbeing and sexual health support for young people, and offers information for professionals at brook.org.uk  
  • Get more details on reusables at putacupinit.com and preciousstars.co.uk

 

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