illustration by @caleeshea

Meet the women using creative ways to raise donations to abolish period taboo and poverty.

Illustration By
Gabriella Guy

At first, periods are something of great mystery, excitement even, when you figure the hold the key to skipping swimming lessons in school. I remember when Florence Walke started her period on the year eight school trip to La Rochelle and as she cried with embarrassment, mortified over her bloodstained white shorts, a wave of delight passed over the rest of us.

This was the moment all of us dorky slow developers dreamt of! It was sign she was becoming a woman. Her boobs were next and boys soon after, we were sure of it.

The excitement, however, was very short lived and it soon dawned on us what a pain in the womb periods actually are; an uncomfortable, expensive, inconvenience to most and even excruciating agony for some.

In March 2017, reports circulated of schoolgirls in Leeds routinely missing school because they were unable to afford menstrual products. Children as young as 10 were choosing to skip school to avoid the embarrassment of bleeding on their uniform, claiming to use items such as socks, newspaper and toilet roll as substitutions. This caused a brief stir, with the country shocked that this was happening on our own First World turf.

In the UK, one in 10 disadvantaged girls below the age of 21 cannot afford sanitary products according to charity Plan International UK. But period poverty is a harrowing worldwide phenomenon of which India, Kenya and Cambodia have battled for years to prevent girls from dropping out of school. Mattress stuffing and leaves are often used instead of sanitary towels in these countries, highlighted by the Bollywood film Pad Man, released in January 2018. The film tackles the taboo surrounding menstruation and follows one man’s journey from inventing a cheaper alternative to sanitary towels for his wife, to the whole of India.

Menstruation has been of constant taboo since Eve defied God in the Garden of Eden and was ‘cursed to bleed once a month’. The Bible relentlessly references ‘menstrual impurity’ and Leviticus 18:19 states: “When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean.”

In 2018, 53% of UK adults described themselves as having no religious affiliation, but still the taboo remains and periods are seldom mentioned. That is unless someone wants to blame a woman’s valid emotions on her ‘time of the month’.

‘Oh take your tampon out, Dave,’ male producer writes for character Hit Girl (Chloe St Morez) in 2013 superhero action comedy Kick Ass 2. It is edited pride of place, 30 seconds into the film trailer and is one of the few mentions Hollywood ever gives to the ‘impure’ deed that happens every month for 50 percent of the population.

It is likely that this classic period gag would go down like a soggy tampon in modern schools, cinemas and TV series, and you could be sure that the Twitterati would have something to say about it.

Marvel TV series Jessica Jones updates the female heroine, marking out new terrain with her witty come backs. ‘How rapey’ Jones replies as a villain tells her ‘I don’t take no for an answer’. It’s this exposure to an updated awareness of appropriate behaviour that has resulted in younger audiences turning their noses up at cult series Friends – of which it’s been 24 years since the first episode aired and 14 years since the finale. While it still holds a place for us millennials and older, Gen Z have declared it homophobic, sexist and racist – what a trifecta! The show brings up periods in just one episode over its entire 10 series (the one where Monica and Chandler are trying to get pregnant, but actually The One Where Rachel Has A Baby) while ‘radical’ modern Broad City regularly mentions them. The major plot in the third season finale was an elaborate and hilarious hunt for a tampon on a plane back in 2016, the year the world started taking notice of periods.


Illustration By
Jasmine Waldorf

9 November 2015

Tampon tax protesters ‘free bleed’ outside the Houses of Parliament after reports showed tampons were considered a ‘luxury’ item

25 November 2015

George Osborne refuses to abolish tampon tax but announces the £15m of the money raised by tax on sanitary products will be spent directly on charities that help women. In other words, the tax will be funding key women’s services such as women’s mental health, domestic abuse and rape crisis centres. (Basically saying “Gals, we’re sorry about men who abuse you but we have no money. How about you pay for domestic shelters with your vaginas instead?”

March 2016

David Cameron announced that, “Britain will be able to have a zero rate for sanitary products, meaning the end of the tampon tax.” However, following ‘Brexit complications’ Cameron’s best plans were laid to rest.

May 2016

An advert for Thinx’s period-proof underwear targeted women ‘and any other humans who menstruate’. This particular advert (the first of its kind) features trans model Sawyer DeVuyst.

January 2017

Actress and activist Ashley Judd performed Nina Donovan’s powerful ‘Nasty Woman’ poem at the Women’s March in Washington. The video went viral and included, “Tell me, why are pads and tampons still taxed when Viagra and Rogaine are not?”

March 2017

UK news circulated that schoolgirls in Leeds were skipping school after being unable to afford sanitary products.

Illustration By
Hazel Mead

Illustration By 
Saskia Tolka

October 2017

Bodyform use red ‘blood’ in their adverts (instead of clinical blue) in an attempt to normalise this monthly phenomenon.

December 2017

The government’s inaction spurred 18-year-old Amika George to start the #FreePeriod campaign, calling on the government to give free menstrual products to children from low-income families, which had a celebrity studded attendance and speakers ranging from model Adwoa Aboah, to MP Jess Phillips.

27 March 2018

The government announced that some of the tampon tax funding will go towards ending period poverty for the first time.

Artists have tried to tackle the menstruation taboo in the past, most notably with ‘The Tampax Romana’, a series made by artist Genesis P-Orridge, displaying collaborator Cosey Fanni Tutti’s used tampons. It was included in an exhibition entitled Prostitution at the ICA in October 1976, and generated a media uproar that led to questions in Parliament about the use of public funding for the arts. The Tory MP Nicholas Fairburn attended the opening and described what he experienced as “a sickening outrage. Sadistic. Obscene. Evil … Public money is being wasted here to destroy the morality of our society. These people are the wreckers of civilisation”.

Later in 1982, Linder Sterling decorated every table in Manchester’s Hacienda nightclub with a paper plate holding a red-stained tampon, for a performance with band Ludus, in which she wore dress made of discarded chicken meat to represent “the reality of womanhood”.

Now, as England lags behind Scotland, which became the first country in the world to give free sanitary products to women on low income, the women of Manchester are getting creative in their efforts to combat period taboo and poverty. They are calling for an attitudinal change as well as abolition of the tampon TAX: the idea that women shouldn’t have to whisper about their “time of the month”, or hide tampons up their sleeves on the way to the toilet.

Gabby Edlin, founder of Bloody Good Period, describes the recent change in tampon tax fund allocation as a “total non-event. It’s nothing more than a tactic to relieve pressure and is an entirely unsustainable solution.” A system to provide tampons to those with lower income needs to be in place. If we have a C-card that gives us an unlimited number of condoms from most pharmacies, a P-card initiative shouldn’t even be in question. Sex without consequences is clearly valued in higher regard than a women’s uncontrollable bodily functions, but that is no surprise in a country that only made it illegal for a man to rape his wife in 1991. As artist Jasmin Waldorf puts it, “We live in a society where condoms are given out for free, yet people with periods have to steal tampons.”

Every Month MCR


Every Month make ‘Period Packs’, consisting of 10 sanitary towels, 10 tampons and one chocolate bar for approximately £1.17 by hosting period packing party events. Regular participant Jasmin Waldorf says they “break down the barriers” that come with the daunting feeling of activism, and notes that Every Month manages to “create incredible direct action, whilst empowering its attendees.” Last November, they hosted a successful art exhibition which was a celebration of all things menstrual.


Rosy Candlin started Every Month in May 2016 and for the first year, organised everything herself. “Since June 2017, I have had a team of volunteers who work so hard to grow Every Month,” says Rosy. “They do the packing, fundraising, social media and lobbying - everything you can think of, they do!”

Every Month’s home is Manchester, but it has no official base yet (other than Rosy’s house) as it is not yet a registered charity. Through their new campaign ‘100 in 100’, which asks volunteers to raise £100 in 100 days, they hope to raise enough to register as an official charity, to secure more funding and widen the area they serve.


“Menstruation is an unavoidable part of so many peoples’ life and that doesn’t stop when someone is experiencing poverty” says Rosy. There is not yet an official scheme in Manchester that tackles period poverty, but Every Month is working on lobbying for a commitment to ending period poverty and believes the city is closer than ever before.

Women in Print


Women in Print is a project bringing women’s stories to life through illustrations celebrating the creativity of women working in the north of England. It also raises money for women’s charities such as, Manchester Women’s Aid and local grassroots organisation The Monthly Gift, which collects donations of sanitary care products and takes them to charities who deliver them to people in need.


It was founded by Jane Bowyer to “change the narrative on women’s history”. She explains that at school, the women she came across in history lessons were either queens, wives or prostitutes, which prompted her to want to be “part of a movement that was challenging the way women were being portrayed in print”.


It began in 2017, as a Manchester exhibition of work by 22 local illustrators that celebrated the life and achievements of 22 iconic female figures who’ve made a significant contribution to Manchester. “I wanted to share the achievements of those women from Greater
Manchester and celebrate the creative female talent we have in the North West,” Bowyer explains.

The money raised through the sale of prints was donated to Manchester Women’s Aid and has gone to fund “a project which allows survivors to work with an artist and animator to tell their stories through an animated video.”

In 2018, Women in Print returns in partnership with the National Trust, “to uncover some of the hidden stories of the women from Dunham Massey’s past”. The Women in Print at Dunham Masse exhibition is on now and features contemporary, creative responses to the lives of some women that have lived or worked on the Dunham Massey estate - from five women artists working in the north of England.


“If you walk the halls of most stately homes in England, you’re greeted by portraits of important men with important names,” says Bowyer. “Women are side-lined as wives, mothers and maids and we don’t often talk about the influence they had. From the Lady of the house to the housemaid, women have played an important part in the story of these places.”

Bloody Good Period


Bloody Good Period gives menstrual supplies to asylum seekers and refugees, as well as providing long term menstrual education to those less likely to access it. A recent collaboration with Mandu Reid from The Cup Effect launched ‘CupAware’ parties which are a fun evening educating women on menstrual cups and vaginas, whilst raising donations for BGP.


At the helm is Gabby Edlin, whose MA in Applied Imagination in the Creative Industries at Central Saint Martins was “very much about social change through creativity”. After volunteering at a drop-in centre for asylum seekers in London last year, she discovered that sanitary towels were provided
only in emergencies. What started as a whip-round on Facebook is now a growing enterprise with a vision to end period poverty and in the last year, BGP has provided more than 300,000 period products to people in need in the UK.


BGP concentrates efforts in North London supplying two asylum seekers drop in centres, as well as other food banks and centres in the UK. “We have a ‘Wish List’ on Amazon through which people can donate, and we also get a lot of donations through the post,” says Edlin. “We live in a patriarchy that doesn’t allow women to take control of their bodies in the way that men can,” Edlin says. “If we didn’t live in a sexist society then people would realise that the things that affect women are just as important as things that affect men. People would always have had free sanitary protection. The tampon tax is a complete joke.”