PERIOD POVERTY

SELMA RAHMAN: PERIOD POVERTY

Selma Rahman, Board member of Women for Independence, Scottish Independence Convention and grandmother talks to REEK about the cost of the curse.

It has been estimated that over a woman’s menstruating years, the cost of period products (PPs) comes to around £5,000, on which we pay VAT.  VAT is supposed to be levied on non-essential, ‘luxury items’: cars are luxury items. So when money is tight, period poverty strikes. The Scottish Government is spearheading a health and well-being initiative through Community Food initiative North East http://www.cfine.org/ (which covers low income Aberdeen homes over seven regeneration areas) to provide free period products for women.

Heat or eat; pay bills or cut back on food.

Can’t afford PPs?-stay at home-don’t go to school.

Can’t afford food? Stint on PPs.

Stint on PPs? Worry at work that your clothes are stained; stress-miss work-school.

Some women know the score! It seems obvious, so why has it taken so long for period poverty to be highlighted? Is the curse still so cursed that wider society continues to ignore it? It has to be ‘wider society’ that ignores it since women don’t! We live with it. For many months, years, and millennia – so many women, so much menstruation and so little knowledge of our herstory coming from our lived experiences.

Well, if are you sitting comfortably, let me tell you.

Long, long ago before anyone wrote anything, or drew anything on cave walls, the female of the bipedal upright species bled bright red blood, for no apparent reason and they didn’t die! There is a hypothesis that women in those early times were considered strong, miraculous beings while men were seen to bleed from wounds and then, surprise, they died. Even more miraculously women would grow big, bigger, even bigger and then, out came a wee being, along with more of that bright red blood. Sometimes the women died, but if they and the wean survived they then produced milk that fed the wee souls.

That was nothing short of powerful, miraculous: life bearing, life giving, birth, blood and milk all in the one being!

Think about it: no Google, no instant health info-look it up-self-diagnosis in those cave days. Equally, early nomadic life, on the move, didn’t leave much time for analytical thinking. So, the link between menstrual cycle, male penetration, subsequent pregnancy and birth took a long time to be established. It took millennia before a man wrote it down, so no one ever charted the thought–action–confirmation process or the real experience of the women.

When you’re written out of history, the chances are, you’re not the historians! You’re demoted or worse, ignored. Reduced to the menial, insignificant, and your very life-giving-life-signifying cycle is reduced to ‘untouchable’. This resulted in women frequently being removed to the very edge of society: literally, into separated areas of the ‘unclean’. But who truly knows if ‘menstrual huts’ to which women are still exiled in various regions world-wide, didn’t start out as warm, safe refuges that we created and chose to go to, to bond, to meet, to share our knowledge and experience. Our time, our space. So that degeneration and contamination, pollution associated with menstruation, must have influenced the development (or lack) of hygiene, pads and tampons over the millennia.

Let’s face it, if men had bled regularly, there would have been product improvement long before now! And it would have been free for centuries.

Much has been written, but in all probability, more has been forgotten in the evolution of PPs but one of my own favourites is http://www.mum.org : An early History Menstruation, Menstrual Hygiene & Women’s Health in Ancient Egypt by Petra Habiger that includes the hieroglyphic translation of text that gives some examples of “negative” careers such as a laundry worker, who has to wash the loincloth of a menstruating women: possibly a pad or rag? Even then, there is the implication that menstrual blood was impure!

It’s now mostly forgotten in the annals of WW1 that nurses couldn’t help but notice that the cellulose bandages being used on the wounded did a good job of absorbing blood compared to plain cotton. And the result? Nurses started to use the bandages during their periods. Needless to say, post war, this was taken up commercially by Kotex. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that we saw the advent of pads with sticky-back adhesive, meaning an end to belts and pins to keep the pads in place. (http://menstrualcup.co/who-invented-the-menstrual-cup/) Tampons probably go back to those ancient Egyptians.

But here and now, and the scandal of austerity, food poverty and period poverty…

Let’s applaud the Scottish Government’s initiative. If it proves an informed base for rolling this out across Scotland, and if the idea of an S-Card comes about (sanitary cards to be shown at participating outlets, chemists, supermarkets to receive free PPs, similar to the C-Card enabling access to free condoms), then well done womens’ groups across Scotland (www.womenforindependence.org/) that campaigned for this, raised funds to ensure PPs are part of food bank collection-distribution; lobbied MPs, MSPs, and well done to the elected officials themselves who have listened to the groundswell of public opinion.

In fact, well done Scotland! Not too wee and not too poor to understand period poverty and be prepared to do something about it.


'THE WOMAN' A POEM

REEK INTERVIEW: IT AIN’T REBECCA

Stylist and fashion writer Becky Boyd talks to REEK about poetry, third wave feminism and her favourite smells alongside her beautiful poem ‘The Woman’…

Tell us the thought process behind your poem?

I’ve always had an interest in writing and been drawn to poetry but I’ve never been able to figure out how to start creating my own pieces and to be honest, I still haven’t. This piece is the first I’ve ever written and it came from my friend asking if I’d be interested in writing a piece about my perspective on what it is to be a woman for her Uni project.

At first, I wasn’t planning it as a poem, but it started to mould together as more of a written piece rather than a commentary of my experience as a woman. Ideas of using techniques and different mediums to emphasise certain parts came together and I then took the conscious decision to try and make it have rhythm using repetitive sentences and contradictions, which led to creating an official piece, “The Woman”.

What do you want people to take from it?

This piece includes my own experiences but I know from talking to friends and women of all ages, that we go through similar things. I want women to read it and feel less alone. I want women to read it, identify their own qualities and feel empowered. I want women to realise that supposed “negatives” are actually strengths. I want women to recognise that the expectations pinned on us by others are wrong. I want women to sense the sarcasm and contradictions in the poem and to nod and say, “yeah, mhm, I’ve been told that, I know that…” If that happens, then I’ve achieved what I set out to do.

I want women to read it and feel well represented. To say, yes we can be emotional but that’s our superpower and actually no, it isn’t weak. This particular part stands out for me because I’ve grown to embrace the power in my emotions and have realised that many people try to belittle a woman’s ability to feel when really, it comes down to the fear that people have that women can be truly comfortable in themselves.

I want men to read it and understand that their comments can make a woman question her natural instincts to nurture and also condense her capacity to love, which can be damaging for her. If men can realise that a woman’s power doesn’t take away from his own and that these comments are more damaging than they may think, then maybe they can learn to embrace female strength instead of shutting down from a place of fear.

Tell us about some of the women who inspire you in your personal life and career from history to now?

My mum is my biggest inspiration and always has been. She built herself up from nothing and continued to find the strength to push through difficult times to make a better life for me. She did this to ensure that I have everything she wished she had when she was younger. My mum has always brought me up to be open minded, to love others, to be strong; to love myself for who I am, to be self-sufficient and to chase my dreams. These are all lessons I’ll carry on and instill in my children. Without the support from my mum, I definitely wouldn’t be who I am today.

Mary Queen of Scots is a historical figure that inspires me. Two things I’ve taken from her story was her strength to carry on through all the difficulties she faced and her selflessness in the choices she made in putting her people and family first. Both of those qualities are qualities that I personally identify with and believe are important to continue to create stronger and happier relationships.

What changes do you think should be implemented to encourage women to go into business and start up their own brands?

One huge change that has to happen for more women to feel inspired and encouraged to start their own empires is, for women to come together and build one another up. I still feel that there is a tension in women working together. A lot of women feel that other women have ulterior motives rather than a genuine interest. This has to change – we’re more powerful together and when we fully realise the extent of this, things will change.

What signifies female strength to you?

To me, our greatest female strength is our capacity to find strength to carry on. Women can go through the craziest times and come out even stronger. It’s something we should embrace, as it’s something that will always work in our favour. Nowadays, there’s a phase that women go through of pretending they have no feelings, “acting savage” when in fact, what they don’t realise is that this phase only shows insecurity and weakness. At the end of the day, showing our emotions is more powerful than hiding those abilities.

What are your favourite smells and are you a witch, or a bitch?

As one of my favourite smells is burning wood and I associate that with the word witch, so I want to go with that answer but to be honest, I’d say I’m a bitch. I’m saying bitch because I am mostly an understanding person but sometimes you just have to be selfish and turn the bitch on. On that note, I want women to know that it’s okay to put yourself first.


SARA HILL

REEK INTERVIEW: SARA HILL MAKE UP

Sara Hill’s pioneering make up brand inspires entrepreneurship, start ups and emotional bravery. Sara talks to REEK Perfume about real-life beauty, equality and her love of the word cunt.

Tell us a bit about Sara Hill make up and the ethos behind it all.

My makeup brand started with a drive to create a product I loved myself. The ethos came later, when I thought about how I wanted to present it to the world. I knew that whatever I put out there, had to represent my own thinking. I wanted to talk about makeup without manipulation – the word “flawless” is banned in my office as I believe no one is flawed. I decided to talk about my products from a more functional, artistic perspective and with a bit of humour. I’m not perfect myself! I try  my best to keep the attention on the quality of the product – that’s the important thing.

What inspired you to work both as an artist and launching your own beauty brand?

I think as a creative person you want to do lots of things, I’m always coming up with new ideas. Having my own brand allows me creative freedom to do things my way and to make products I know I’ll love and hope that others will love to.

How has working as a make up artist shaped how you view your own beauty?

I think there’s a disconnect and a distance with the vision of myself and reality, this sounds awful but it’s not. When I look at my eyes I think “they’re nice how would I paint them” rather than “look at my eyes”. I find getting older interesting, I love how grey my hair’s getting. Wrinkles on my own face are like drawing on crinkled paper, it’s a nice new challenge. I’m more than my body or my face.

Have you experienced any backlash from your campaigns?

None that I have heard, I’m happy with them and that’s all that matters in my world.

What gender equality causes mean the most to you personally and why?

It’s about a world without labels, allowing humans to think and feel and act in whatever way feels authentic and makes them feel truly happy without harm to others. A world free of any judgement based on your genitals. I feel Equality must start with an internal journey to question our own thinking and conditioning. All equality is an awakening to understanding that we are all the same, we are all connected.

What women do you most identify with from history to the present day that have also inspired you to push further in your career or your personal life?

I think all humans are amazing, spiritually Byron Katie is incredible. She’s my go to when I’m feeling stressed – her words ground me . I also love Anjelica Huston and Angela Lansbury just because they’re amazing!

What changes do you think should be implemented to encourage more women to go into business and start up their own brands?

The changes need to start in a person’s head. Fear is the biggest reason for anyone not to follow their dreams. Fear of failure is a big one! That can hold people back.  I don’t believe that there’s such a thing as failure. Even if my business goes bust, I lose my house, my car anything like that, It really doesn’t matter. I’ll still be me. I’ll find something else to do that makes me happy and I will of learned so much on the journey. I think my own biggest fear is having a dull ass boring life doing something I hate. Now that’s scary!

What signifies female strength to you?

Stillness, Clarity, Resourcefulness, Humour, Unshakability.

What smells remind you of femininity?

I’m not sure what femininity is to me. I find it difficult to describe or encapsulate into anything. The only thing I can think of is my mother – that feeling and smell of warmth and sweetness.

What makes you a Damn Rebel Bitch? Tell us what kind of bitch you are

I’m a bitch that loves the word Cunt! I’m a bitch that loves glitter, smudged mascara and real skin, I’m a bitch that loves all the bitches in the world.

Find out more about Sara Hill at her website: www.sarahill.com