What a bloody year

On 18 December 2019 (a year ago to the day!) after a whirlwind year of endless meetings, emails and hard work, we launched Period Friendly Bristol. Chosen by city leaders as one of 2019’s top three One City priorities, the launch event marked the culmination of a series of partnership initiatives with over 100 organisations across a wide range of sectors contributing to making the vision a reality, including Hargreaves Lansdown, Jacobs, WSP, Burges Salmon, Bristol Connected City, Plimsoll Productions, City to Sea, The Real Period Project, Collectively, Hey Girls, Bristol City Youth Council, and Friska to name just a few.

Based on shocking statistics including that more than 140,000 women and girls miss school every year due to an inability to afford period products and 48% of students are embarrassed about their periods, Bristol has taken a leading role in eradicating period poverty by working to make period products available to all who need them, while also combating outdated societal attitudes to menstruation. We set about this by working with Bristol’s tech and data community, facilitated by Bristol Open Data, and a range of corporate partners, to set up our web app to coordinate a donation and distribution network of period products in several locations across the city, with people being able to put in their postcode and find free period products near them on a ‘take what you need’ basis.

We also worked with The Real Period Project and City to Sea on an education programme. The programme addresses a number of aspects of period dignity and menstrual health, as well as tackling period stigma and informing young people about the environmental sustainability of products. A Period Friendly Schools charter was also developed, with training, guidance and lesson plans to be provided. When schools closed their doors during the lockdown, trainers managed to complete all of their training online. We have developed guidance on how schools can become period friendly and this will be on the Healthy Schools website after Christmas. I also sat on the government’s Period Poverty Advisory Taskforce advising on the national approach to these issues based on the approach we developed in Bristol.

It is clear that Covid-19 and its response continue to highlight gender inequalities within our society. It is also clear that periods don’t stop in a pandemic. This is why the Bristol One City vision to eradicate period poverty and to be a city of period dignity, in which nobody is held back in life or stigmatised against simply for having a period, has gained even greater urgency this year. Research tells us that Covid-19 has exacerbated period poverty. Findings from Plan International UK’s recent report indicate that 11 per cent of girls aged 14-21 have not been able to afford period products in lockdown instead resorting to makeshift products such as toilet roll, socks, fabric or paper. Almost a third of those who responded said that they struggled to access or afford these items during lockdown. This simply shouldn’t be happening. That’s why we have now established Period Friendly Places as a charity, with a view to expanding our model beyond Bristol, and will continue to work with our city partners to get products to those who need them and to address stigma. This is something that we can only tackle if we do it collaboratively, as One City.