Not just poor, bloody poor...

Not just poor, bloody poor...


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

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ASHLEY Smith was waiting to use her favourite bathroom stall after physical education class when she first witnessed period poverty. Her grade nine classmates chatted animatedly as they used the shared changing area on the other side of the building, but Smith, who was menstruating, wanted the privacy (and the lower school bathroom's only lady bin) that the occupied corner stall offered.

“So I decided to wait for the person to come out, but after a while I started getting impatient. All the other girls had left and gone to math class because we had a monthly test that day, but she was still in the bathroom,” Smith, now grown, relayed to All Woman. “It was really silent in there and I didn't smell anything. I knocked but no one answered.”

Growing desperate after pushing the door but realising it was locked, Smith kneeled and peeked under the wooden door to see if someone was really inside.

“I knew from the shoes who it was so I called her name and said, 'You can't a hold up the bathroom so. Me want change my pad and go class go do the test'. She said, 'Me a come', then there was a flush and she slowly walked out,” Smith recalled.

But even after Smith had finished and gone to wash her hands, she noticed that the other girl was still in the bathroom; she had simply gone to occupy another stall.

“The face basin that she had used took a little time to run out and I saw something like blood washing down so I went and asked her if she was OK. She said, 'Yeah, but me a see me period and me rag full, so me just a bleed out little then go do the maths test'.”
After the girl declined her offer to run to the school nurse to buy her a single pad for $20, Smith was struck by the weight of the situation. Her classmate, who had gotten the nickname Repeater-Gaye because she was known for repeating dirty uniforms, could not afford a pad and had resorted to washing and reusing a face rag to protect her uniform from the heavy flow.

“I went to the school nurse and 'trust' one for her and paid for it out of my lunch money the next day but I never forgot how sad and embarrassed she was. This was a school in rural St Catherine, and many of us were poor, but I never thought anyone could be that poor,” Smith lamented.

Repeater-Gaye is but one of the many Jamaican girls and women affected by period poverty, discovered Shelly-Ann Weeks, the clinical sexologist who started the HerFlow Foundation.

“I started the conversation about period poverty after I took a look at the National School Feeding Programme and wondered what girls who have their periods do for products if they don't have lunch money,” she told All Woman.

“After contacting the guidance counsellors at the schools they were able to confirm that girls do have a problem accessing menstrual products. Some counsellors would go into their personal stash and even spend their own money in order to help their students.”

Since its 2016 inception, HerFlow has been collecting sanitary napkins and other menstrual products through drives and sponsorship and donating them to high school girls across Jamaica.

“We have been able to donate over 100,000 menstrual kits, visit over 300 schools to teach period education workshops, supply the female prison, and work hard to raise awareness about period poverty as well as work to address the stigma and shame associated with periods,” she beamed.

“It is my personal dream to see all schools supplied with menstrual products free of charge so no girl will ever have to face the indignity of period poverty,” she said while speaking at the launch of the 2020 #EndPeriodPoverty campaign, which is sponsored by global feminine product distributor Always.

Through this campaign, which is in its second year in Jamaica, a total of 200,000 pads will be donated to 14 secondary schools in Jamaica, ensuring the female students receive products to last a few months. The programme will also be launched in Trinidad and Tobago and in both countries Always will donate one pad to #EndPeriodPoverty for each pack of its items bought between February 17 and May 17.

The donations will be paired with increased public awareness of the needs of women faced with period poverty, using the advocacy of influencers such as Mekelia Green, Soyini Phillips, Davianne Tucker, Emprezz Golding, and Sanneta Myrie.

Entrepreneur and former beauty queen Yendi Phillipps is the 2020 brand ambassador.
“As a mother, I want my daughter to grow up in a country where having your period is freely spoken about,” Phillipps said.

But while donations and partnerships such as these have helped to slow down the trickle, Weeks maintains that more must be done to curtail period poverty. With developed nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom reporting that between one in five and one in ten girls have either missed school entirely or have had to leave school early because of a lack of period protection, Weeks believes the problem is even more pervasive in our developing nation, but more funding is needed to conduct proper research and address the issue.

“We interview the guidance counsellors at each school we visit, and in 2018 we conducted a survey of seventh grade students in 27 schools as a part of our Free HerFlow school tour,” she shared. We observed that 44 per cent of students are affected by period poverty, 24 per cent visit the guidance counsellor for assistance and products monthly, 20 per cent are absent from school, and 13 per cent use alternative materials like old fabric, tissue, and even reuse pads for days at a time.”

Tamara Amos-Williams is a guidance counsellor at Holy Trinity High School in Kingston, one of the schools that have benefited from the Free Her Flow school tour.  

“During discussions with some of our girls we found that they did not know what a sanitary napkin was, neither did they know how to use it,” she bemoaned. “A few of them said they used alternative materials including newspapers, and when it is 'full' they would dispose of it.”

She celebrated that since HerFlow has been engaging the school, there has been a positive impact.

“We have seen great improvement in the lives of our girls, especially since we have been able to supply them with products when they have their monthly cycle. Instead of staying home during their flow the girls' attendance has improved and when they are at school their overall attitude is better and their confidence boosted,” she said.

Weeks acknowledges that while public awareness surrounding period poverty has been flowing smoothly over the last four years, there are still some problematic clots that need to be expelled.

“With all the work being done to build awareness, there are still too many people who are not convinced. A main reason for this, I believe, is how our culture treats with the issue of periods and how women and girls are constantly shamed when it comes to menstruation,” she pointed out.

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