Can We Talk About Periods? By Sarah Crook and Kelly Grehan

Recently we came across the picture above and loved it.  We talked about copying the wording and using it for an art exhibition on women we are involved with. We decided it was not suitable for a family audience, which got us thinking about why periods are such a taboo subject?

Why aren’t they freely discussed?

We remember our own mothers being shocked when sanitary towel adverts were first allowed on TV in the early 1990s.

In fact in 1993 an advert featuring Claire Raynor for Vespre Sanitary towels was banned following 700 complaints that concerned matters such offence being taken ‘about the format in which lots of women talk freely and easily in their own words about the product.’

Comments included things like ‘I didn’t know where to look when it came on and my husband was sitting beside me.’

The complaints led to sanitary adverts being banned between 4pm and 9pm.

More recently the advert above was banned on the New York subway because of the language used.

The first-time menstrual blood was depicted as red in an advert (as opposed to as blue) was in October 2017!

Why does the mention of periods remain a taboo?

Why does a perfectly natural process, one which without which we wouldn’t exist, still cause embarrassment and shame?

Does ‘discomfort’ come from ancient beliefs that menstruation is dirty?

This belief continued in numerous cultures and religions and was one reason why women were deemed unfit to hold positions such as priests.

The Old Testament makes numerous references to bleeding women being unclean (see here http://www.womenpriests.org/traditio/unclean.asp)

Given that they are experienced by half the population, women are likely to bleed for between 2,250 to 3,000-plus days across their lifetimes and a quarter of women of reproductive age are menstruating at any one time – So why are periods still such a taboo?

From the time we start menstruating; girls are taught that periods are something to keep a secret and that sanitary towels are to be kept hidden.

Research has found that women go to lengths to hide their period — from concealing tampons and pads at the bottom of their shopping basket, to putting a used pad in their handbag when there is no bin in a bathroom.

We recall trying to work out the least conspicuous way to go to the toilet at work with a tampon, is it to take our whole bag, hide it up our sleeve or squeeze it tightly in our fist and hope no one sees?

Some women experience their first period as young as 8 years old now. Feelings of shame or embarrassment at a completely natural process are reinforced before they even hit being a teenager.

If it’s not openly discussed and spoken about honestly by all in society then how are we supposed to allay their fears and feelings of shame?

Only when periods are openly and honestly discussed in the media, at home and at schools can we set about change.

Education for all that enables women to feel empowered and comfortable by the natural processes of their bodies is needed.

We have both started using moon cups and it is astonishing how many women view them as a “bit disgusting!”

Of course, this stigma continues into other female associated words, with most women terrified to use the word vagina, often using euphemisms like ‘mini’ or ‘nunny.’

Very rarely do we hear the word vagina used in conversation or the media.

We would guess this avoidance to talk about our own bodies leads to the gynecological cancers being often undiagnosed until it is too late.  

Women suffering in silence or too scared to speak to doctors with health issues related to vaginas. We don’t tend to have nicknames for other parts of the body like arms and legs!

We believe stigma around menstruation is a form of misogyny. Negative taboos condition us to understand menstrual function as something to be hidden, something shameful.

This leads on to the issue of period poverty.

Anyone who has seen the film I, Daniel Blake will recall the harrowing scenes where Katie, played by Hayley Squires is driven to shoplifting sanitary towels, having been sanctioned by the benefit office and having found there were no sanitary products at the food bank.

Hayley Sims, ‘I Daniel Blake’

A recent survey of 14 to 21-year olds by Plan International found that 15% of girls have struggled to afford sanitary care at some point, with one in ten girls admitting to borrowing or improvising with sanitary products.

Shockingly, 7% of girls described using socks, newspaper or fabric to get through their period, in place of tampons or pads.

Plan International’s findings highlight that there are a significant number of girls in the UK whose daily lives are impacted by period poverty, both physically and emotionally, as taboo’s around menstruation are impacting girls’ self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

Scotland has taken a step forward to becoming the first country to outlaw period poverty as Labour plans to formally introduce the legislation at the Scottish Parliament.

Monica Lennon’s member’s Bill has won the backing of each of the five parties at Holyrood, giving her the right to press forward.

Her proposed Sanitary Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill would create a statutory duty for free provision of sanitary products.

We recently started running a Red Box Project in Dartford (https://www.facebook.com/RedBoxProjectDartford/).

This is a project where women set up drop off points for sanitary products and then give them to schools to give to girls in need.

All the effects of poverty are cruel, of course, but there is something particularly desperate about a girl trying to learn whilst worrying about bleeding through her school uniform, feeling unclean all day and the dreadful impact this has on a girl’s self-esteem.

The fact that periods are treated by taboo by many will reinforce those feelings for that girl.

The response we have had from the community has been fantastic, although we have received criticism, including one woman calling us ‘pseudo feminists’ trying to solve ‘a non-existent problem’ and ‘favouring women over men.’

Of course, this just spurred us on, but it showed the disdain some people hold those unable to afford sanitary products in.

We believe girls, dealing with the misery that puberty almost inevitably brings, as well as all the stresses of school, friendships and modern adolescents, should be spared the embarrassment of period poverty.

We hope our Red Box Project makes some difference.

Women’s Contributions In History is Under Represented… Even In Stone Statues By Kelly Grehan

Today Millicent Fawcett made history as her statue joined the 11 others already at Parliament Square and she became the first woman to feature there.

That it has taken 100 years since some women got the vote for her to be included perhaps, speaks volumes about the contempt women’s roles in history are viewed with.

Millicent Fawcett was a British feminist, intellectual, political and union leader, and writer.

She is primarily known for her work as a campaigner for women to have the vote, having led the nonviolent suffrage organisation, the NUWSS from 1890-1919, and therefore played a key role in gaining women the vote.

She also engaged in other political activities such as supporting worker rights and overcoming laws which were based on a dual morality for men and women.

Parliament Square is not the only place where women have been overlooked for commemoration.  

Research by feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez revealed; of the 925 statues listed in the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association database, only 158 are of a woman as a lone standing statue.

Included in this figure are numerous statues of Queen Victoria and numerous nameless sculptures, typically rendered as naked, curvaceous and reclining.

Criado-Perez commented that if you are a woman “ your best chance of becoming a statue is to be a mythical or allegorical figure, a famous virgin, royal or nude.”

The need for female representation was recognised as long ago as 1952 when a correspondent wrote to the Times about women being neglected in statues and memorials. The piece was entitled : “A Man’s World Even in Stone”.

Sadly there does not seem to have been a great deal of progress in the intervening years.  

It is not that women’s roles in history were minor, it is that they have not been celebrated enough to become common knowledge.

Many key women have not been recognised in stone… here are just a few;

Virginia Woolf,

Matchgirl strike leaders Mary Driscoll and Sarah Chapman (who’s pauper’s grave is at risk being moulded over),

Suffragettes including; Jessie Kenney, Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst (there is a plaque for the latter on the statue of their mother),

Family planning pioneer Marie Stopes,

Social reformer Octavia Hill,

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson –  the first woman to train to be a Doctor (the rules at the time designed to keep woman from doing so),

Rosalind Franklin – whose x-ray work eventually led to the discovery of the DNA double helix and

The first British astronaut Helen Sharman.

Hard to believe that none of these women have a statue to commemorate them isn’t it?

A campaign for a statue of  Mary Wollstonecraft to be put on Newington Green  has been started.

Wollstonecraft was the author of the 1792 text  “Vindication of the Rights of Women” which was the first book in English arguing for the equality of women and men.

She is also notable as an early human rights advocate, educational pioneer, icon of social mobility, key Enlightenment philosopher, first female war correspondent and mother of Mary Shelley – let us hope this campaign proves successful.

You may ask why this matters, well in my view it matters because history matters.

Much of our cultural identity comes from the people and events we choose to celebrate.

Could a reason why women make up only 32% of the MPs in the House of Commons and local authority councillors be because we are socialised from birth into expecting those in such roles to be men?

I think one reason I have always been so drawn to the stories of the suffragettes is that learning about them  is the only time at school I that I can recall learning about females in history who were not Queens!

Another question is does the nature of many of the male statues being war related lead to a culture where we celebrate achievements in battle high above those in say medicine, or education?

I would say the evidence that we do this is all around us.

So let us celebrate our new statue of Millicent Fawcett, but let the real celebration be when the number of statues of women matches that of men and the number of women inside Parliament does the same.

Donate to the Mary Wollstonecraft statue here https://www.maryonthegreen.org/project.shtml

Petition to save Sarah Chapman’s grave is here https://www.change.org/p/minister-of-justice-save-sarah-chapman-s-grave-a-leader-of-the-1888-matchgirls-strike-trade-union-heroine?recruiter=109957635&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=share_petition

Petition for 50:50 parlaiment here: https://www.change.org/p/50-50-want-to-build-an-inclusive-modern-and-gender-balanced-parliament-it-would-lead-to-more-responsive-and-informed-decision-making-so-everyone-would-benefit-50-50-are-asking-those-in-power-for-solutions-and-taking-action-join-us-5050parliament

Information of some statues that are of women in London http://www.secret-london.co.uk/Women_2.html

UK: There Is No Profit In Peace By Kelly Grehan

On 15th February 2003 I was one of the 3 million people who marched through the streets of London, one of 600 cities that held protests around the world at what was then, the imminent bombing of Iraq.

You might think that such a big, and a global show of feeling would have at least slowed down the march towards the invasion, but days later, on March 19th, George Bush announced:

“On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein’s ability to wage war. These are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign…..My fellow citizens, the dangers to our country and the world will be overcome. We will pass through this time of peril and carry on the work of peace. We will defend our freedom. We will bring freedom to others and we will prevail.

His words could not have turned out to be more ironic: the invasion, turned into an occupation.

No thought was given to what came next.  

Credible estimates of Iraq War casualties range from 150,000 to 460,000.  Iraq’s armed factions still remain locked in a struggle with the forces of the Islamic State.

This morning we woke up to the news Britain, France and the US had launched air strikes on Syria, or as Donald Trump put it:

The nations of Britain, France, and the United States of America have marshalled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality.”

To quote Jeremy Corbyn “Bombs won’t save lives or bring about peace.”

This action occurred despite Reports saying UN Inspectors were in Damascus last night to carry out inspection of Douma today.

The UK could have enabled the inspection and not joined the US & France launch strikes in Syria.

The BBC are reporting that Theresa May pushed for an early strike “to avoid having to get parliamentary consent”.

This while we lecture other countries on democracy!

The Syrian conflict began seven years ago as a peaceful uprising against the president, but has now turned into a full-scale civil war.

Many groups and countries are involved and perhaps unsurprisingly the jihadist groups Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda have flourished.

The US, UK, France and other Western countries have provided varying degrees of support for what they consider “moderate” rebels.  A global coalition they lead has also carried out air strikes on IS militants in Syria since 2014 and helped an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) capture territory from the jihadists.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group with a network of sources on the ground, had documented the deaths of 353,900 people (up to March 2018).

This includes 106,000 civilians.   1.5 million people have been left with permanent disabilities, including 86,000 who have lost limbs.

At least 6.1 million Syrians are internally displaced, while another 5.6 million have fled abroad.

The figures do not include 56,900 people who it said were missing and presumed dead. The group also estimated 100,000 deaths had not been documented.

Neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, where 92% of them now live, have struggled to cope with one of the largest refugee exoduses in recent history.

As the 6th richest economy, you might have expected the UK to play a role in aiding the civilalians, but the truth is this country is incentivised to pursue conflict for profit.

But as I wrote a few months back Britain is the worlds second biggest arms exporter.(https://theavengeruk.com/2017/09/13/blood-on-our-hands-london-hosts-worlds-biggest-arms-fair-by-kelly-grehan/).

In July 2014 the then Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed to Parliament that the UK had indeed exported chemicals that “were likely to have been diverted for use in the Syrian programme”.

This morning David Cameron said  “I firmly support the military action taken in Syria. The barbaric & intolerable use of chemical weapons should never go unchecked.”

Yet, 10 months after the Syrian uprising David Cameron granted chemical export licences to British firms so they could supply chemical weapons to Syria!!

Here is an idea for you David, maybe we could prevent chemical weapons attacks by NOT SELLING CHEMICAL WEAPONS.

Maybe Britain has redeemed itself with its’ efforts to secure safety for those who have left Syria?

In 2016, Lord Dubs sponsored an amendment to the Immigration Act 2016 to offer unaccompanied refugee children safe passage to Britain amidst the European migrant crisis. Originally rejected by the House of Commons, the amendment was eventually accepted by the government following a second vote in favour by the Lords.

In February 2017, the Home Office abandoned the scheme after accepting just 350 out of the planned 3,000 child refugees.

To quote David Lammy MP “We have today found ourselves in the morally untenable position of bombing Syria without Parliament voting at the same time as refusing to take in child refugees who are fleeing the bombing in Syria. As a society we must reflect hard on how we have ended up in this situation.”

Private Renters Deserve Pets Too! By Kelly Grehan

Yesterday was National Pet Day.  A frivolous occasion, you might expect to be marked with humour in a country famed for being full of animal lovers.

But pet ownership is on the decline in the UK, falling by 7% in the last 5 years.  I believe much of this can be traced to the rise in renting.

The proportion of people living in the private rented sector has doubled over the last decade, as rising house prices coupled with stagnating wages have put the dream of owning a home out of reach for many, especially the young.

Around 5 million households, or 21% of the total are living in private rented accommodation, a quarter of whom are families with children.

Renting, is now often a stressful way of life, with renters without security knowing their landlord can raise the rent at the end of their tenancy agreement, evict them, and that they will pay the costs associated with moving.

In addition research indicates tenants are increasingly afraid to complain about poor conditions and disrepair for fear of eviction as landlords seek an ‘easier tenant.’

Pet ownership is another area (of many) where private tenants are denied opportunities taken for granted by homeowners and council tenants.

The benefits of pet keeping are well known.

For example they can offer relief from loneliness –  a growing problem in the UK, which has been recognised as a health issue.

On an emotional level, owning a pet can decrease depression, stress and anxiety; health-wise, it can lower your blood pressure, improve your immunity and even decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Having pets teaches children responsibility, in the case of dogs can be a way of meeting new people and getting more exercise and fresh air.

Being excluded from keeping pets means private tenants are excluded from a traditional and beneficial part of British family life.

The expectation that tenants are not allowed pets, is part of the culture that persists where houses are seen as being the cash cow of the landlord rather than a home.

The fact that landlords have been allowed to ban pets is indicative of the way the UK sees landlords rights as more important than those of tenants: family life and childhood are second to the rights of profiteering.

In February, announcing plans connected to animal welfare, the Labour Party announced that when in power it will bring in an assumed right of tenants to keep pets in their home.

This may seem a minor policy, but I believe it will improve the quality of life for many people.

Inspiration Follows Inspiration By Kelly Grehan

I was 11 when my Primary School teacher said something that has never left me.

Talking about the suffrage movement she said “I hope none of you, but especially the girls, ever forget what others gave up so you would have the right to vote.”

This was the beginning of a love affair with the suffragettes and feminism for me.  

So I have been surprised that some of my fellow pupils from that class in 1990 have gone on to be apolitical and others opposed to feminism.

My experience has always been that to mention women and equality is to be met with a accusations of men bashing and to point out the subjectification of women in the media is to be accused of jealousy.

So, despite being a very vocal person I had not always fought as hard as I could on women’s issues.

Over the last six months, however,  I feel as if I have found my voice as a feminist.

This has coincided with a few things: firstly Kent’s new Labour MP Rosie Duffield has been instrumental in raising the profile of Kent’s Labour women, and very quickly we have formed a network, or what could be called a ‘sisterhood.’

It sounds corny, but it’s true, I feel supported by my Labour sisters, that we are all routing for each other.

I have also started blogging (https://theavengeruk.com/) and increasingly write about my lived experiences and those of my friends, and so by default these are often experiences that could be deemed women’s issues.

This has brought me into contact with a whole new network of women.

I have got involved with 50:50 Parliament, having met the founder Frances, at an event and it has brought back memories of all the reasons I became enchanted by the suffragettes 28 years ago.

Following on from this, myself and my friend Kate this week ran  Women’s Event at Dartford Labour, the first in our time as party members.

I spoke with one veteran member of the party who said her heart leapt with joy’ when she saw the invite because at last the issue is gaining attention.

Armed with the stories about the disparity between men and women at every level of government in the UK we made the case for 50:50 representation.

With our new network of Labour Party women we were able to find four amazingly motivational speakers, who represented the diversity of women in terms of backgrounds (the videos can be found here (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKTFQzBXXEWXQwebXL76jNQ).

Hearing them led to other members telling their stories.

These stories are about lived experiences, and of course, women’s lived experiences are different to those of men, and both need representing.  

What the event confirmed is this:

Hearing women tell their stories inspires other women to tell their stories.

When woman speak up it inspires other women to speak up and so it stands to reason that more women standing will lead to even more women standing for election.

For me this is just the beginning of speaking out for 50:50 Parliament and I cannot wait to see where else it takes me and to all the fabulous women I will meet on the way.

Autism And Transition To Adulthood – Why It Was So Daunting By Matt Lynch

Eight years ago I was faced with the nightmare that every autistic person dreads – leaving school.

The days of only having to turn up where everything else is decided by someone else was rapidly coming to end.

The thought of having to somehow find a job, or more realistically claim benefits and sit around being more and more depressed by the day was only becoming more of a reality that I pushed to the back of my mind.

Procrastinating wasn’t going to help, but as nobody had the answers I was looking for it was the only option I was left with.

Before I knew it the fateful day came and went without much ado.

I remember sitting in the car on the way home looking at the lampposts fly past and thinking “well this is my life done”.

My brain was just full of little bubbles of information, floating around and bumping into each other, and trying to think about this only made it worse.

Thinking of anything would just burst the whole lot at once, which as you can imagine made finding a solution to any of the problems impossible.

As I’ve got older, I’ve learnt to just accept many of the problems and deal with the ones that I can do something about, as there’s no point in worrying about things you can’t do anything about.

However, in 2010 and aged 18 this just simply wasn’t possible.

Today I volunteer for the National Autistic Society local Dartford and Gravesham Branch, local NAS run school Helen Allison and am an autism advocate on a local steering group for Autism; giving advice to local professionals.

It has been a gradual increase in involvement for me and it helps that I am surrounded by people with an understanding of autism.

With the local support groups I help give advice to parents with children with autism, having been there myself and hope to continue to do this to make a position be change for other children and adults on the spectrum.

Matt is the Social Media and Web Officer for the local NAS Branch that he helped establish. Despite the Branch being less than one year old it has been awarded the status of Top 5 NAS Branches in the country. Matt gives talks on autism perspective for the Multi Agency Autism Group.

What Autism And Self Perspective Can Feel Like By Various Writers

We asked two adults with autism how it can feel to have autism and relate to the rest of the world. Matt Lynch and an anonymous writer share those views and a poem.

By Matt Lynch

The Mask I Wear

🌸 🌸 🌸 🌸 🌸

A Poem By Anonymous

I am the one who isn’t enough

And

I am the one who is ‘too much’

The one chastised for things I didn’t mean

So much so that I have no self esteem

Apologise, take ownership of things that aren’t mine

Maybe because it’s easier than being wrong all the time

I stand a better chance of being liked

When my mask is on and I smile

But what about what others don’t see?

The tears and the turmoil, fear of being me

I cannot and will not prove everyone right

So

I swallow my words ands and sit tight

I sit on my hands so no one can see

That I pick my hands until they bleed

Pulling and pulling the strands of my hair

Surely that would make people stare?

That’s not acceptable in today’s digital age

Not the way a mother of kids should behave

So I put my mask on, push down the tears

Hope no one notices my long list of fears

No one can see; my cough is a disguise

Bile rising and the stinging in my eyes

When someone looks with a questioning frown

I just say “I’m tired” with a smile and it works for now

It covers the terror, the panic and the fear

Of the things I don’t make sense of and don’t want to hear

I don’t understand what their expressions mean

So I’ve learned to smile and look keen

Replay it all in my head while I am alone

All the bits I got wrong, I hope it didn’t show

It’s too much sometimes and I want to hide

I need to be better and work on my disguise

Because now my transformation is almost complete

Shy anxious girl to woman of the world

There are two me’s

The one that you see

And the other for those

Unlucky to get close

Maybe one day I’ll fully be able

To transform and in private be stable

Tomorrow will be better I tell myself each night

Tomorrow I will learn how to get it all right

To calm those butterflies

To stop those slipped beats

Until next time, until I am free

Free to be brave enough to be me