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25th January 2024

“Menstruation involves everybody, not just females”: in conversation with ‘Once a Month’

UoM’s student volunteering project ‘Once a Month’ discuss intersectional feminism, toxic masculinity and what the university can do to raise more awareness around period poverty and coercion
“Menstruation involves everybody, not just females”: in conversation with ‘Once a Month’
Credit: Once a Month

On the back of another successful Reclaim the Night march, it’s important to keep the spirit alive by having continued conversations about inequalities among marginalised genders. The Mancunion spoke to two members of ‘Once a Month’, Nicky – the administration and finance project leader (she/her), and Kate – the communications project leader (she/her) to discuss period poverty and their experience with Reclaim the Night this year.

Once a Month is a student-led charity based at the University of Manchester that donates monthly packs of period and hygiene products to shelters around Manchester. This involves hosting monthly ‘packing seasons’, which Nicky explains is a nice community initiative where volunteers come together to help pack these products ready to be delivered. Both expressed how, at these sessions, they can engage in important and eye-opening conversations with a range of people about the differing impacts of periods.

When talking about the type of participation they get at packing sessions, both were very grateful that every month they get so many volunteers joining them, however, they mentioned that they are still trying to get more male volunteers involved as most of the volunteers are girls. Speaking to this, Kate shared that “I think a lot of guys think it’s not their place to get involved with issues like this, but it very much is (…) we had a packing session on Wednesday this week and there was only one guy out of 30 other girls who where there.” She emphasised that “menstruation involves everybody, not just females”, and issues such as period poverty are everyone’s business.

Nicky elaborates on this; “we’re trying to change this way of thinking that menstruation only has to do with women” and raise awareness for this to make it less of a “taboo topic.”

They acknowledged that the current healthcare system in the UK can be discriminatory based on neglectful government policy which continues to enable period poverty to exist. Nicky expressed how we can learn a lot from the progress in Scotland, which has made all period products free, but England still has a long way to go.

Nicky also referenced the recent government initiative to provide free period products in schools for everyone who menstruates, which she regards as progress but points out that “it’s not enough”. “Not only people from school menstruate”, “there are other people (such as homeless people) who still need these products and are not getting them”. They reiterated that this is the issue which Once a Month tries to address; aiming to help those who are left out of this government policy.

Having said this, Nicky gave insight into her experience of differences between how period poverty is tackled here and in Peru, where she is from. She made sure to point out that initiatives such as free period products in schools “is not our reality” in other countries that are facing other problems, “so I just wanted to emphasise that even here, we are kind of lucky to have this access.”

Kate went on to talk about how the lack of conversation about period poverty has major implications for enabling the issue to persist. Speaking on her experience volunteering at a homeless shelter, she mentioned how “nobody donates period products to shelters (…) I would look in the donation box and there would be more condoms than period products.” So, she would see people come in every day and struggle due to the lack of available sanitary products. Kate described how seeing this first-hand was the catalyst which made her get into contact with Once a Month.

Once a Month emphasises the importance of intersectionality in every aspect of their charity cause, and this was very clear in the interview. Speaking more on this, Nicky talked about what intersectionality means to her and why it’s important. She mentioned that “it’s important to highlight that everyone has different struggles” regarding menstruation, and the packing sessions are a way to open our eyes to these differing experiences as we “get to know volunteers with different experiences and talk about period poverty in general.”

In particular, Kate pointed out that there is significant underrepresentation of period struggles amongst trans and non-binary people. In particular, official discourses such as “feminine hygiene” are a very problematic assumption as all genders can have periods, so period poverty concerns everyone. She pointed out that, doing some research on this, “there are no statistics on period poverty in trans youth (…) so there’s a definite ongoing issue of underrepresentation.”

Linking this to Reclaim the Night, Kate spoke on the success in championing intersectionality in this year’s march, highlighting that in previous years there have been sections separating a women’s march and an LGBTQ+ march, but “at the end of the day we are all marching for the same reasons” so it’s important to be marching all together.

Both members were very enthusiastic about the atmosphere of the march this year, having both attended; Kate mentioned how “I was seeing people clapping on the side of the streets as we were marching” and it was a “great experience”. Nicky added that seeing the security guards chanting too was a really “special moment”.

Despite, their appraisal of this year’s march, both recognised that more could be done to extend the spirit of Reclaim into everyday life, not limiting it to one night a year.

Nicky acknowledged that “the SU did such a great job” by hosting different activities this year such as poster making, but she highlighted that she thinks initiatives like this should be extended over a longer period, so people have more of a chance to get involved and suggested that lecturers get involved too.

Kate added that there was not enough focus on core facts in intersectional differences in experiences of people with sexual coercion and abuse, pointing out that “I didn’t realise that disabled women in relationships are more likely to experience sexual abuse (until I did some of my own research)” so making students aware of specific statistics like this is an important way to draw attention to the campaign.

Both agreed that more could be done through university education to support the movement of Reclaim and make more of a difference among students. Kate specifically expressed her disappointment with the consent module in first-year which is no longer mandatory. She described it as “a very weak attempt at dealing with a bigger problem” adding, “I think the issue is a lot bigger than a 45-minute Zoom call, and now it’s not even mandatory. So I think the university should step up.”

This led us to talk about this year’s theme for Reclaim which is coercion and we got into a discussion about toxic masculinity at university.

Both girls reflected on their shared experience of attending an all-girls school before university, which meant they had never really witnessed toxic masculinity or sexism until arriving at university. Kate described it as “a big shock”, as she reflected on a specific experience in a first-year tutorial group where a male member of the group would “speak over every single girl that was trying to (voice an opinion) about abortion because he thought his opinion was more important”.

Both were insistent that keeping the conversation alive and bringing underrepresented realities of inequality around safety on our streets and period poverty is the most productive way to create lasting change.

So, don’t let the spirit of Reclaim fizzle out as the year goes on and keep an eye out for updates on Once a Month’s social media if you’d like to get involved in some of the work they do and learn more about the issue of period poverty in the UK.

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