The Cambridge Period Project emerged organically, after the Sexual and Reproductive Health Subcommittee for Students for Global Health Cambridge began to explore the level of menstrual product provision and period poverty in Cambridge University and the local community.
Through a survey sent to JCR and MCR Women and Marginalised Genders officers, we found that the level of provision between colleges was disparate, with some colleges not providing free period products or keeping them in a locked cupboard which students can only gain access to by asking porters. The central SU scheme means that sexual health supplies are consistently accessible across all colleges, and it struck us as disappointing that the same could not be said for period products.
We conducted a survey of 630 Cambridge students to assess access to menstrual products and the financial impact of menstruating. We found that 51.6% find purchasing period products to be a financial burden, with 12.5% experiencing this persistently. Within an educational setting, Period Poverty can result in missed learning and reduced concentration levels. Furthermore, despite approximately 85% of colleges providing free menstrual products to their students, 55.1% of students did not have clear access to these products. We concluded there is a clear need for improved hygiene infrastructure in the university, making period products free and accessible.
Alongside this, our subcommittee wanted to host a panel event raising awareness of Period Poverty in general. We came across StreetCramps, a charity providing boxes of period products to homeless people. We hosted a Q+A session with StreetCramps founder, Bimini Love. This was a productive conversation discussing some of the specific challenges faced by homeless people who menstruate, and the logistics of tackling this within a locality. With the rise of 20p charges to enter public toilets, and the closure of many facilities during the pandemic, rough sleepers are finding it increasingly difficult to access safe and hygienic toilets. Reusable period products, such as menstrual cups, are not practical or safe for those having their period whilst sleeping rough to use due to a lack of hygienic washing facilities, meaning consistent access to products is essential.
In Michaelmas, we launched a crowd funder to start a Cambridge branch of StreetCramps, which raised over £200. We identified CHS (Cambridge Housing Service) as a community partner which would be able to distribute our boxes of period products to those who need them in Cambridge.
It was at this point that we decided to formalise The Cambridge Period Project as a campaign aiming to tackle period poverty in Cambridge – both in the university and the community. We launched our social media channels in late January, and began to plan how we would lobby the university to make period products free and widely accessible.
We then collaborated with WomCam to write an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge and Heads of the 31 colleges. The letter makes four demands: that free menstrual products are provided freely in the toilets of college buildings; that free menstrual products are available in the toilets of university departments and faculty buildings; that free menstrual products are accessible in toilets for all genders and lastly, that free single-use menstrual products are available that have a minimal environmental impact. Currently, our open letter has nearly 1000 signatures from Cambridge students.
By February, we used the money raised from our crowd funder to create twenty StreetCramps boxes. Each box contained 20 super tampons, 20 regular tampons, 14 regular pads, 32 regular liners, 2 heat pads, deodorant, 60 baby wipes and 2 pairs of new underwear. These boxes have now been delivered to CHS’ office, and distributed to those who needed them.
We are planning to have another round of fundraising soon, and are looking to collaborate with more community enterprises that are able to distribute our StreetCramps boxes. We are hoping to work with supermarkets, creating a self-sustaining pipeline to those who need free period products in the local community.
HeyGirlsUK is a brand which sells environmentally friendly single-use period products and reusable products. They also have a buy one donate one policy for single use products, and have kindly written a blog post in support of us. An ultimate aim of ours would be to have HeyGirlsUK as the supplier for the centralised University free period products scheme, and a partner of CHS, meaning that as Cambridge University buys period products, the local homeless community benefit from the buy one donate one scheme.
We know that Period Poverty has increased sharply during the COVID19 pandemic. The combination of a lack of sanitary infrastructure and increased financial hardship has led to charities seeing a 6 times increase in the amount of period products they have to supply. Financial anxiety, coupled with anxiety as to whether makeshift menstrual items will hold, demonstrates the emotional burden Period Poverty causes. Period Poverty also results in acute medical issues: using makeshift sanitary towels is unhygienic and therefore dangerous, potentially resulting in infection and toxic shock syndrome. We have a responsibility to ensure that this gender and financial based issue is fought head on.
We believe Period Poverty should not have to be tackled reactionarily, or on a temporary basis. Limited access to period products can be solved by improving sanitary infrastructure, making period products more publicly and readily available. The financial burden of periods can be solved by making these newly accessible period products completely free. Therefore, we aim to set up self-sustaining systems whereby people are able to access period products easily, freely and permanently.
Want to know more?
Check out these useful links if you’d like to learn more about what we are trying to do!