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Activist Gabby Edlin wants you to talk about periods. As she pioneers the campaign to end period poverty and rid of the taboo around menstruation, the Bloody Good Period founder lets us in on her greatest achievements and her hopes for the future.
Born in Manchester and raised in a liberal Jewish family, Gabby Edlin studied a number of degrees, trying her hand as an artist, jewellery-maker and nanny before making her mark as a campaigner for menstrual equity. And what a mark it is.
In 2016, while volunteering at a drop-in centre for asylum seekers and refugees, Gabby was shocked to find that period products weren’t available or considered essential items. This sparked a Facebook rally – Gabby posted a status asking people to donate products which eventually led to the birth of Bloody Good Period.
Now, just two years on, the charitable organisation has brought over 300 volunteers together who supply period products to almost 40 drop-in centres in the UK. Gabby has gone on to win the title of Stylist’s Woman of the Week and was named one of London’s most influential people 2018 by The Evening Standard.
Changemaker and activist Gabby, along with the volunteers behind Bloody Good Period are not tiring yet, however. Their goal is to fight and persist until period poverty is abolished for good.
You grew up – one of four sisters – in a Jewish family in Manchester. What was that like?
Very female! It was generally quite an open atmosphere [at home], my mum was always quite open about bodies. We’re all close in age, so there were times we were all menstruating at the same time. I went to an all girl’s school between the ages of 4 and 18, so I’ve always been surrounded by women.
Are there any defining Jewish principles that guide your work?
There’s a phrase in Hebrew “tikkun olam” which means “to heal the world”, and that’s a big part of my Judaism especially. I grew up in a liberal family where social justice was important and I was an active member of a socialist left-wing youth movement – both helped to shape my identity.
Describe your experience of going to an all girls’ school. Did your understanding of gender shift in any way?
I grew up assuming that feminism was done and that we could do whatever the boys could do. It was only on my gap year, when I taught both boys and girls, that I noticed the differences.
Where did your interest in art stem from?
I was always the artistic one in the class and in my family. I wanted to be a fashion designer for a while – I’d embellish clothes with names and sequins and glitter and sell them for a fiver at school.
My grandmother was my creative inspiration when I was little. I started a jewellery brand during university called Florence & Pearl named after her and her sister – I recycled raw materials and made pieces of jewellery from found objects.
You completed an MA at Central St Martins – what’s the story there?
A few years after studying English Literature, Fine Art and History of Art at Newcastle University, I joined an MA programme at Central St Martins called Applied Imagination in the Creative Industries. Its tagline was “asking better questions”. That’s when I realised that I could create my own work with things I cared about.
How does art and activism inform the work you do?
I used to think of myself as a “social change creative” and had a website that read “Gabby Edlin: creating responses to terrible things”. It’s a bit of a wanky strapline, but I do think it nicely summarises how creativity and activism interact in my work.
How did the idea for Bloody Good Period come about and evolve into what it is today?
Following my MA, I worked part-time as a nanny. The father of the children I looked after started a drop-in centre for asylum seekers – when I got involved, I learned that period supplies were only given out in an emergency. It got me thinking about where refugee women are placed in the social sphere. I posted a Facebook status asking people to donate pads and that’s how it took off.
The #FreePeriods movement has gained momentum in recent years. What needs to be done to ensure asylum seekers and refugees are not left behind?
It’s a duty for businesses to supply toilet paper, so why isn’t it the same for period products? The government is looking to implement policies to alleviate period poverty within schools, but its approach needs to make sure that certain groups aren’t excluded.
For asylum seekers and refugees, we could start by increasing their allowance. We still have a long way to go in busting myths and stereotypes attached to these communities.There’s an assumption that these individuals are economic migrants, but most wish they could be at home. It isn’t fair for them to have to worry about how to access pads when their next period comes.
What is Bloody Good Period’s ultimate goal?
We don’t want to exist. We shouldn’t have to give products out. We want to normalise periods and create a conversation around them involving all genders. They shouldn’t be a big deal. Periods are a vital part of how the female – and in some cases trans – body functions. It doesn’t have to be this huge embarrassing secret.
What can be done in schools to encourage conversation around menstruation and eradicate the period stigma?
Parents should be armed with the knowledge in order to pass it on to their daughters and sons. This then normalises the subject and removes any shame associated with menstruating. There also needs to be a better understanding of the options available to women, whether it be menstrual cups or period underwear.
You’re the host and founder of Stay in The Room, a podcast that invites men into the period conversation. How has it been received?
Really well! Men will talk about this; they benefit from understanding how the female body functions. It’s empowering for everyone.
What more can we do to involve men in the period discussion so it’s less binary?
The title of our podcast asks that men – especially fathers – stay in the room when the conversation of periods come up. The moment men leave the room, daughters then see it’s a women’s issue, and that’s where the crux of the problem lies.
There has to be education for boys in schools, the same way that girls have it. That’s not to say there isn’t merit to be had in girls having their own space to discuss periods, privacy is important – but boys should learn about it too.
Bloody Good Period has recently collaborated with The Body Shop and launched a Period Product Donation initiative. Tell us about this.
The Body Shop has funded an education programme that supports people who menstruate at our drop-in centres. We identify any knowledge gaps and bring in gynaecologists and sexual health workers in a laid back environment, so visitors can ask questions such as how to navigate the NHS in issues relating to female health. We’re going to continue this regardless of whether we receive funding because it’s been so successful.
What BGP achievement are you most proud of and why?
I’m so, so proud of Bloody Funny comedy night, which I created with Jen Brister. As a subject, periods can be entertaining. It’s something people are desperate to talk about and I’m proud to have created that.
As an organisation, I think we’ve changed the face of periods – and more specifically, period activism – in the UK.
Can you recommend any books on menstruation and period activism?
The Managed Body by Chris Bobel is crucial reading. Period Power by Maisie Hill is great if you want to understand your cycle. Lastly, Natalie Byrne’s book Period is wonderful – it’s trans-inclusive, age-inclusive and just gorgeous.
Any unsung heroes or heroines whose work and activism we should seek out?
My work wife Seyi Akiwowo is the founder of Glitch, a non-profit organisation which aims to end online abuse. She’s brilliant. Our office mates Birdsong also produce beautiful, ethically made clothes.
And finally, how can people get involved with BGP?
We’re always in need of donations, so please visit our website for more information.
You can sponsor a period or purchase essential items on our Amazon wishlist which are then distributed at our drop-in centres throughout the UK.
People can also organise a fundraiser or a pad collection in their school, university or workplace, just email [email protected] for more details.
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