All hail Manchester-born Gabby Edlin, founder of Bloody Good Period - the London-based organisation combatting period poverty by providing menstrual products to asylum seekers, refugees and those who can't afford them. As we partner with the charity for International Women's Day, we took five with Edlin to hear more on her mission…
What's your background?
I originally worked in Arts Education in galleries and museums, working in outreach with children and young people. We were working on a feminist exhibition at the gallery I was employed at, but the world I was working in felt at odds with the powerful work, and that started me thinking about a career change…
I knew I wanted to do something creative, but that it should empower women and girls, in a genuine, authentic way. I started a Masters at Central Saint Martins called Applied Imagination in the Creative Industries, which was two wonderful years of exploring social change through design. I worked on a project which engaged men in the feminist movement, through comedy. A year or so later, I started Bloody Good Period, using the tools and themes from my MA.
What is 'Period Poverty' and when did you first become aware of it? Period poverty is when a person cannot afford the products they need to take care of their period. For someone living in poverty, especially asylum seekers who only receive £37.75 per week (and are not allowed to work) the cost of products is prohibitive. However, period poverty extends further than just products - regardless of whether we can afford a tampon, the poverty of knowledge is that women and people who menstruate have about our bodies and cycles is shocking.
I first became actively aware of period poverty after reading an article in Vice by Maya Oppenheim about homeless women and how they cope with their periods.
We do not want to exist - we believe that period products and education should be covered by the state, in the same way that condoms are, and that they should be as freely available as toilet paper and hand soap.
So how did Bloody Good Period come to fruition? I signed up to volunteer at an asylum seeker drop-in centre soon after reading Maya's article, and when I was made aware of the "essentials" provided for the clients at the drop in, I noticed that they did not mention period products. When I questioned this, I was told that they were occasionally given out "in an emergency". It made me wonder what a period emergency looked like - would someone have to bleed on the floor before she was entitled to a pad? I set about researching whether other drop ins and food banks gave out menstrual products and found that while a few gave them out occasionally, there was no mechanism in place, anywhere, which ensured that all women and people who menstruate could receive the products, reliably, every single month.
I posted a status on Facebook asking friends and family to send pads via an Amazon wish list I'd made, and they never stopped coming! Pretty soon I was receiving products from people I'd never met who were moved to help, as well as requests from drop-in centres, all over the UK. I designed a logo and name, a website, and the rest is history!
Can you give us a brief summary of what BGP aims to do - and how? Bloody Good Period provides menstrual products and toiletries to asylum seekers, refugees and those who can't afford them. The current recipients are a blend of asylum seekers, refugees and LGBTQ people living in poverty. These products are currently distributed through 25 drop-in services and groups in London and Leeds.
What was the initial reaction? It was overwhelmingly positive. All sorts of people were happy to see a way that they could help women and people who menstruate less fortunate than them, and we provide a solid, tangible way to do that. Of course, there are some silly people who don't like what we do because they're more concerned with how uncomfortable they are with menstruation, than the people who can't afford products, but honestly, we don't waste out time on them!
Have you since seen a shift in attitude? Absolutely. Since we started there has been a huge rise in female-led conversations about menstruation and female health. I can only hope this continues until the idea of a period taboo no longer exists.
What kind of things can people donate? We accept pads, pantyliners and basic toiletries, including afro shampoo and conditioner. The most beneficial donation, though, is cash, as that means we can buy the products in bulk!
How many people work for the organisation today? It's me and Social Media Manager, Rachel - but we are supported by the most amazing crew of volunteers, who dedicated their time and energy to making sure pads get into pants!
What are the main challenges you face? Periods are every month, which means that we have to divide up our time and resources between making sure the people we work with have the products we need, and campaigning to make sure we don't have to exist. The taboos and stigmas and silences we're battling are centuries old, though, which is a pretty challenging habit to break, so it can be difficult getting the people in power to listen and act!
What's been your greatest moment? Being named as one of the Progress 1000 Top Changemakers in the Evening Standard. I really hoped it would mean George Osborne had to say the word period in public, but sadly this never happened!
What's next? Keep at it. And use our platform to ensure that this issue is no longer an issue in ten years-time.
What can Liberty customers do to support? Share our message via the socials, talk to your friends and family (particularly the men) about periods. And donate - just £10 could mean that one woman doesn't need to worry about her period for a month!