Bristol is leading the way in tackling inequality, and it’s therefore fitting to be the first city in the world recognised by the Period-Friendly Place charity for its work to improve access to sanitary products for women and girls.
With over 42% of women in the city unable to afford menstrual products - the third highest rate of period poverty across England, Scotland and Wales - we knew we had to act.
At the start of the 2019, Bristol Mayor, Marvin Rees, brought together civic leaders to launch the One City Plan, a plan of action spanning the next four decades, with year by year targets. Ending period poverty and combating outdated attitudes to menstruation was elected one of the top priorities for 2019.
And so our work began. No single organisation can deliver the change needed, and that’s why partnership working has been so important to this project.
First we reshaped the conversation, moving from the shame and stigma associated with period poverty to talking about period dignity. We took this message to the grassroots level focusing on the role schools can play in both their policies and day-to-day practices. The Real Period Project and City to Sea have together developed an education package, which will be available to all Bristol schools in 2020. This means pupils will have a better understanding of menstrual health, how to access products and that no one should suffer period stigma. At the same time we spoke to young people on social media, reinforcing the dignity message and challenging taboos through a video made by their peers.
While many businesses and organisations have signed up to have free sanitary products in their bathrooms, our next steps is to establish a donation and distribution network to further this support. Initially we are working in areas of disadvantage together with four large corporate partners to pilot a new website. It features an interactive map of Bristol, indicating where people can access free menstrual products as well as donate them.
And we have officially launched the Period-Friendly Bristol charity. The organisation will continue this work into 2020 and beyond.
The initiative has received significant national and international attention and support. We are in discussions with a US city to potentially be the second city to adopt our Period-Friendly Places model. And we’ve been exploring an opportunity to work with key UK partners so we can encourage more towns and cities to become Period-Friendly Places.
I’m very proud that Bristol is the first city in the world to adopt such a wide-reaching, collective approach to tackling both period poverty and period stigma, and the model will be built upon in 2020. Sometimes I wonder how we’ve achieved so much in a year. The answer is simple: a passionate team committed to eradicating period poverty and shame in Bristol, working jointly with partners across the city and true political support are what have helped make this work a success.
We will continue to work relentlessly until we completely eradicate period poverty in the city - after all, nobody should be held back in life or stigmatised simply for having a period.
Cllr Helen Godwin is cabinet member for women, children and young people, and lead member for children's services at Bristol City Council