"Our Ultimate Goal - for menstrual products to be widely available, for anyone, for free" - GU Red Alert
Over the past few years of organising and campaigning, we at GU Red Alert have met some amazing people and had a great time combatting period poverty. However, we would like for nothing more than to be made redundant. Our ultimate goal - for menstrual products to be widely available, for anyone, for free – would leave us with nothing to campaign for. Wouldn’t that be fantastic?
When Eleanor, our president, first heard about period poverty a few years ago, thanks to the campaign group The Homeless Period, she was horrified. How could a rich country like the UK, like Scotland, allow its citizens to live in such undignified conditions? And yet, when she had a look around for organisations she could join to help out, there was nothing. In 2015, the public still felt uneasy to speak openly about menstruating. Since the topic was taboo, if you had any trouble affording the means to keep yourself clean and comfortable, it was on you. Within a few weeks, Eleanor tracked down other likeminded, horrified students and, in a University of Glasgow lecture theatre after-hours, GU Red Alert was born.
In 2015 we were finding our feet. We put on film screenings and charged menstrual products as an admission fee, we campaigned against the tampon tax, we talked to our university’s unions about selling products at lower prices, or for free. Our first big moment came in Christmas of that year, when we launched our first washbag appeal. Students and others in the community put together almost 100 washbags with menstrual products and essential toiletries which were given as Christmas presents to vulnerable service users at the Simon Community’s emergency women’s service.
Since then, the washbag appeal has grown in success every Christmas and we have gotten better at campaigning over the rest of the year. With the support of Monica Lennon MSP, we were able to bring our fight against period poverty to the Scottish Parliament, where we were able to input our perspective to her growing movement. We knew then, as we know now, that universal, free provision was the only way to eradicate this problem for good.
From our experiences with community groups, activists, and service users – means-testing is expensive, unwieldy, and can prevent people from accessing essential services and products. The period poverty debate in Scotland is radically different than it was in 2015. Period poverty is regularly in the press, people are donating more menstrual products to food banks than before, and students at schools, colleges, and universities receive pads and tampons for free. However, period poverty is still a very real problem in the lives of vulnerable people in this country.
When Red Alert president Eleanor took the period poverty plight to the British Medical Association’s large annual conference, doctors from across the UK recognised the terrible impact this problem could have on their patients. As such, they unanimously moved in support of her motion – to enshrine in BMA policy the pledge to campaign for universal free provision.
Scotland is getting closer to becoming the first country to make period poverty a sad part of history. Until then, we will continue to campaign, collect, and organise, and we hope you’ll join us for the fight!
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