My fight against period poverty helped lead to free sanitary products in schools

Sophie Cummings, 23, lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and is the founder of #freeperioduk.

Period poverty

I’m a 23-year-old classroom assistant from Belfast, but I’m also the founder of #freeperioduk, a campaign to eliminate period poverty.

I started this project nearly three years ago after going through a difficult time in my life. After seeing the injustice that is ‘period poverty’ and how a lot of people couldn’t afford sanitary products, I wanted to change that.

Periods are difficult at the best of times but the degrading and devastating issue of period poverty affects health and mental wellbeing.

#freeperioduk recognises and wants to support all people who menstruate. Not all of them are women and we want to include all people who identify with menstruating and those who sympathise with this issue and want to help.

Impacting all areas of a women’s life

Plan International conducted a survey in 2017 and found that ‘one in ten school girls have been unable to buy sanitary protection’.

I work as a full-time classroom assistant in a girls’ grammar school and I have seen the impact of period poverty and how it affects pupils.

Any pupil who misses school misses out on valuable learning time and this can sadly affect their future.

Sophie

Changing tides

Former Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced in the spring statement that he wanted to end period poverty in English secondary schools and pledged to fund a scheme that was put in place in September 2019.

Read more: Plastic-free periods – one way you can help the environment

I am glad that the UK Government is listening to people like myself and other campaigners like Amika George from the Freeperiods campaign and The Pink Protest.

I just hope that a similar scheme will be rolled out in Northern Ireland and Wales soon.

And I am glad and encouraged by fellow activists who are challenging this stigma and issue. For me being an activist is simple; don’t take no for an answer.

How to get your voice heard

If you are reading this and want to challenge an issue or start a petition here are some helpful tips from my personal journey.

  1. Believe in the cause you are fighting for and keep going
    It is not easy and times you may want to throw the towel in. People will see your passion and your heart in your campaign and be excited about it. Confidence goes a long way.
  2. Social media is your friend… sometimes 
    Connecting on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook with fellow campaigners and causes is a great way to make friendships and collaborate on articles projects etc. It helps you see what people are doing in the field you want to challenge; working together is easier than working alone.
  3. Work/life balance is important
    Working full time and running a campaign is difficult at times. For me, it involves lots of time on my phone, laptop and finding time for my social life too! Invest in a planner and set time aside to do campaign work and dedicating a time slot aside will make you more productive as it is a part of your weekly routine.

 

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