Gabby Edlin was raised in a Jewish family in Manchester where social justice and activism were really important parts of that upbringing. She´s one of four sisters and was raised in a very female and open household. She also went to an all-girls’ school – so she talked about periods a lot! With her non-profit Bloody Good Period, she´s now fighting against “Period Poverty” and follows her mission to create a society where the simple fact of menstruation isn’t a barrier to anyone participating fully in society and in life.
Gabby, where does your activism for this topic come from and how did you start with Bloody Good Period?
In 2016 I volunteered at a local drop-in center for asylum seekers – the father in the family I was nannying for at the time told me about it originally. I realized that, although they were giving out lots of essential items, there were no period products. I asked about it and was told that they were only given out in ‘emergencies’. They had the products, but they were hidden away and whispered about. What were these women supposed to do without these products? Every period is an emergency if you don’t have what you need. Also, no-one is prepared to ask every month for things that are hidden away, it just deepens the sense of shame around bleeding. So I asked on my personal Facebook page for donations of pads to take along to the next drop-in. They started coming in and basically, that hasn’t stopped ever since! We’ve grown from that personal whip-round to now being partnered with 40 drop-ins for asylum seekers and refugees.
What is period poverty and how did you come across this problem?
Period poverty is not being able to access the supplies you need to manage your period. Bleeding is a multi-million dollar business for the companies that make pads and tampons, so anyone who is vulnerable in any way can really struggle to access them, even though they’re basic necessities. They should be provided free, in the same way, that toilet paper is, but instead we, and many other period organizations, have to fill the gap. Period poverty is of course linked to the wider issue of poverty: if you can’t afford to feed yourself and your family, you can’t afford pads either, no matter how cheap they are. And no-one should have to choose between pads and food.
I first became aware of the lack of access to these products, specifically for refugees and asylum seekers, through my volunteering at a drop-in. But period poverty affects lots of different groups – for example, Plan UK’s research shows that 10% of girls in the UK have been unable to afford period products.
At Bloody Good Period we now prefer to talk about striving for menstrual equity, which is a term coined by American lawyer and activist Jennifer Weiss-Wolf. It’s about creating a society where the simple fact of menstruation isn’t a barrier to anyone participating fully in society and in life, with policies and laws ensuring that everyone has accurate and accessible menstrual information and education, as well as products. Menstruation is a fact of life, and an essential part of life, so we can and should be thinking about it in how we set up our society and equip people to live their lives.
Where are you getting the products from?
Our supporters, or as we like to call them our ‘bloody babes’, are just amazing. They donate products to us – either via our wishlist, or just buying things and sending them to us, or organizing collections of supplies at their work and so on. We also have a ‘Sponsor a Period’ scheme where people can donate every month to cover someone’s period. We’ve also run partnerships – for International Women’s Day this year we partnered with iconic London department store Liberty, who collected products for us and plastered posters about periods all over their store, which was amazing, and we’re now working with The Body Shop. There are donation points in lots of Body Shop stores all across the country, meaning we can support more drop-ins and centers in more parts of the country, and they’ve mobilized their Body Shop At Home consultants to spread the word and collect products too. It’s really quite incredible to see how many people get so passionate about the cause once they know about it.
Since you started your work, have you seen a shift in people’s minds?
There was a study recently in the US that showed Gen Zs are more willing and comfortable to talk about periods than Millennials, and I’d definitely say that’s true here in the UK and for our audiences too. However, there’s still a long bloody way to go! We sometimes hear feedback from people outraged by the word ‘period’ in our name – why is it so hard to say, when it’s so normal, natural and healthy? But that feedback is, thankfully, few and far between – most people find it bloody refreshing to have this thing just openly talked about!
Where and how can people donate?
You can donate period supplies and other products via our wishlist at bit.ly/BGPwishlist, or you can donate money for us to buy what’s most needed, or sponsor someone’s period every single bloody month, on our website, bloodygoodperiod.com.
What is the most difficult or challenging part of your work?
We are not the first campaigners talking about this – activists were talking about being open about your body in the 60s, there was a campaign on the tampon tax in the 70s… but we’re challenging centuries of thinking here, and that can sometimes feel like an uphill struggle. But that also makes me determined. We’re not the first campaigners on these issues, but we need to be the last ones!