Monthly menstruation products are a necessity.

Sadly, across the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley, too many people can’t afford them. These include young girls and single mothers, newcomers and refugees who face added levels of stigma and trans and gender non-conforming folks for whom this can be a compounding and overwhelming challenge.

United Way is committed to addressing this issue. On March 7th  we’re launching Period Promise, a campaign that collects menstrual products and funds to help make sure girls, women and other vulnerable people have access to the items they need.

Co-chairs of Period Promise, Nikki Hill (Principal, Earnscliffe Strategy Group) and Sussanne Skidmore (Secretary-Treasurer, BC Federation of Labour) believe that no one should have to pick between feeding their family and affording basic hygiene products.

Leading the way

Passionate advocates for menstrual equity, the pair are working hard to mobilize organizations, unions and individuals across our communities to make their own period promises to help end period poverty.

“The stories of people in our communities, not only struggling to access such a basic human need, but also feeling too silenced and embarrassed to ask for help really make this campaign important to me,” says Nikki. “Especially as someone who has never had to go through that experience.”

Across our communities, she has heard from teachers who have young students who skip school because they didn’t have access to menstruation products and from non-profit program staff who have helped children who had been caught shoplifting tampons.

“I even had friends who told me about how they made it through school using only paper towel, but never told anyone,” she says.

The importance of education

Sussanne agrees, touching on how the enduring stigma attached to menstruation can add another level of complexity around an individual’s access to product.

“There is still so much stigma around this issue,” she says. “At all levels of society.”

She sees education and policy change as the keys to changing attitudes toward periods, as well as establishing menstrual equity – so that everyone, no matter who they are, has access to the product they need.

“It is so incredibly important to engage and educate the broader population on how period poverty impacts people every single day,” says Sussanne. “Second, we as a public must push for policy on this issue at every level of government, to ensure these fundamental, basic needs are being met for everyone.”

This includes advocating for free product in schools, organizations and workplaces.

Opening up the conversation

Talking openly about periods often challenges long-standing notions of what is considered ‘appropriate’, in both the personal and professional spheres.

Nikki notes that it can be a learning curve for many, and reveals how she too re-evaluated her own approach to the issue.

“I’ve sat at mostly male management tables since I was in my late 20s and as I’ve said many times, you certainly don’t get far at those tables by talking about your period. It’s been a huge opportunity for me as a leader to examine the privilege that allowed me to ignore this issue for so long and not participate in any conversations for years.”

Important allies

But both Nikki and Sussanne are heartened to see how many men have committed to, and embraced the Period Promise movement. They see this support helping shift an entrenched understanding that periods and menstrual equity are “women’s work.”

“The big surprise was the level to which men stepped up,” says Nikki. “It’s helped move the campaign away from the work of the ‘women’s committee’ to an understanding that’s its ‘collective work.’”

This support also helps broaden the public’s understanding of who menstruates, and who can be affected by period poverty.

“There is a huge importance of ungendering periods and making sure we talk about menstruation in the most inclusive way possible,” says Sussanne.

Labour for change

A large portion of support for the work of the Period Promise campaign comes in the form of the British Columbian labour community, which is making great strides for inclusive work environments.

“The labour movement brings a strong commitment to social justice, diversity, organization and advocacy,” says Nikki. “Launching Period Promise with its support has already helped it build quickly, and spread widely.”

She and Sussanne look forward to seeing the results over the next month, as community members, organizations and unions commit to their own period promises.

Ready for change. Period.

“This is going to open up an important space for dialogue,” says Sussanne.

This will include new partnerships and hopefully policy work.

“The United Way model of bringing community, labour and business together to change lives really shines in this important work,” concludes Nikki. “There are few organizations that build those connections across our communities in this way and this has really helped build out the profile and impact of this campaign.”

What’s your #periodpromise? Make yours today.