Union Matters: Dignity.Period

Guest host Mary Otto, President of Local 43 and representative of NSGEU’s Political Action Committee interviews

Guest host Mary Otto, President of Local 43, and member of NSGEU’s Political Action Committee interviews Erin Casey and Joan Helson about a campaign called Dignity. Period.

From a blog written by Erin Casey:

One-third of Canadian women under the age of 25 say they’ve struggled to afford menstrual products (Plan International Canada, 2018). One in seven girls in Canada have either left school early or missed school entirely because they don’t have what they need to manage their periods (Always Confidence and Puberty Study, 2018).

Nova Scotia is the province with the highest rate of food insecurity in Canada. When people with periods can’t afford food, they can’t afford other necessities. They likely have to choose between groceries and period products, often putting their children’s needs ahead of their own.

Dignity. Period. is a campaign to help people with periods in Nova Scotia access the menstrual hygiene supplies they need to thrive—to live safely and with dignity. We’re inviting people across the province to host Pad Parties and collect donations of period products for Feed Nova Scotia to distribute to their 145 member food banks, meal programs, and shelters.


To like their Facebook post please visit: https://www.facebook.com/DignityPeriodCampaign/

For a transcript of the podcast, please see below:

Dignity.Period Podcast – Published Dec. 3, 2018

Hi and welcome to Union Matters, the NSGEU podcast. My name is Mary Otto and I am going to be your host for today. I am a member of Local 43, which represents the lab workers at Canadian Blood Services. I am really excited to be at the NSGEU building here in Burnside where I will be participating in the NSGEU Women’s Conference. I have presenters who are panelists, actually, you guys aren’t really panelists, talking to us about periods. So we have Erin Casey and Joan Helson. Pretty exciting talk here at the Women’s Issue Conference! So you’re from Dignity Period. Do you want to tell me a little about what that is?

EC We are talking about periods. I talk about periods all the time. Dignity Period is a campaign that I started this fall to help address period poverty in Nova Scotia. Period poverty, quite simply, is the inability to afford menstrual hygiene supplies: pads and tampons. Typically, people who experience period poverty, experience it on a monthly basis. It’s an ongoing problem.

MO Absolutely, I know that it’s, I think a serious issue that people don’t often talk about is how do you – I’m a Diva Cup lady myself, which a lot of people don’t actually want to talk about, it’s like god dammit I am never paying for another package of tampons or pads again, so there you go, NSGEU members, that’s what I use. Now you probably know more than you wanted to know. It’s funny because I was talking with one of my co workers and in NSGEU there are a large number of women a lot of us work directly with women so I think it’s something that happens in a lot of work places as we’re all kind of synced up and we’re talking about Diva cups and we are talking about how we really feel it would be great to have a campaign to just buy people Diva Cups then to find out that it actually does exist…

EC That’s my friend Suzanne Lively. She does a campaign called Friendly Divas to raise money to buy the cups for women in need. So I’ve collected donations of pads and tampons for the last couple of Christmases among my own friends and colleagues, but decided this fall to follow Suzanne’s lead and do a provincial campaign to collect disposable products for women across the province. And because the reusable cups aren’t the solution for everybody for a whole range of reasons, and so I just thought this is something that women should not be essentially slaves to their biology, it’s not fair. So people with periods should not have to miss out and not participate in work, in life, in school because they can’t afford the things they need to manage their period. So what I’m asking people to do quite simply is have pad parties. So it can be anything from a coffee party, a cocktail party, a little party in your office, an online party, and you ask your guests to bring donations of pads and tampons and then I will match you with a Feed Nova Scotia member organization near you to drop off those donations. So typically I don’t even touch the donations, I just get people organized and set up, ask them to register their party so I can keep track of how awesome we’re doing with this, and report back to all the people that are helping. So I literally have, at this point, probably hundreds of volunteers working on this across the province in the form of pad parties.

MO That’s super exciting. So if our members want to have one of these pad parties where do they look to find your contact information?

EC So the first thing they should do is come and like our Facebook page. So if you just put Dignity Period Campaign in your Facebook search bar you’ll find us and just like us and there’s all kinds of information and videos of me talking about this so if you’ve had enough of me today…

MO Well, I can say that you are completely engaging and I think you had one of the most active conversations after your talk, and all of the members who are attending the women’s issue conference were just talking periods and…

JH That’s what happens though, and what’s really awesome is that the conversation went from:talking about what kinds of parties can we have pad parties can we have to how do I set this up to really talking about ways that we can change the game, ways that we can introduce gender equality issues that are related to having periods, because if you have to sit home and miss out on school, on work, how can we address that beyond — Erin and I both know that this is a band aid solution that providing people with pads and tampons is really essentially just like providing people with access to food banks but at the same time how do we move beyond that to a more comprehensive solution and that was what was really exciting to listening to the members as you can see that their wheels are turning and we have a powerful group of women talking about empowering other people to make changes — that ripples out, and that can change the whole world, you know, I mean, not to be grandiose but it really has that kind of excitement about it.

MO I think this is a worldwide issue, women and periods, Myself personally I grew up we were really poor and I remember being embarrassed to be asking for period projects and I think it’s something that we have to look at too in schools is you know oftentimes schools have the supply but that you actually have to go and you have to ask for them. Where really, I feel like every public washroom should have a pile of products: male, female, unisex every bathroom should have it because over half the population has periods.

JH Well, these products should be absolutely universally accessible and there are countries in the world that are doing that, that are providing free products to people with periods. Scotland is one of them and are others as well and right here in Halifax at Mount Saint Vincent University at the end of August they announced that they were going to supply free products to all students who need them.

MO Yeah, and it’s amazing and actually one of the initiatives of the women’s issues committee was to put period products in all of the members’ bathrooms so if you are here at the NSGEU building in Burnside today — I went in and was like woohoo! if I start my period unexpectedly which apparently now happens now that I have hit 40 I’m feeling like a teenager again…

JH Welcome to my world, yes. There were some great ideas from the floor, things like not only providing period products in high schools or in junior high is having packages of underwear available that was a fantastic idea. Ways to foster communication so that people can pick up on where the deals might be when you’re buying pad products and there were a bunch of ideas, we could of gone on and on, there were so many great ideas coming up out of that group. I felt like we could talk about that – it was really impressive.

MO It was an exciting conversation, I think we really have to get over this embarrassment about talking about our periods. Why it does it have to be this shameful secret thing? It’s something that happens for, let’s face it, a damn big chunk of your life

JH Over fifty percent of the population for over say thirty forty years

MO I’m going on twenty-five twenty-six years now…

EC One of the things I hope will come out of this is that we get to chip away at that stigma. Having a period is a normal healthy part of life.

MO I actually worry when I don’t get mine, like what’s going on here?

EC Exactly, so I had a friend years ago who used to say “Oh, I like getting my periods, it’s my little monthly check up I know everything’s okay” and I think it’s getting better but I think we need to the more we talk about in the more we normalize it,  the easier it’s going to be for people to talk about and talk about what they need, because it’s one thing if you’re visiting your food bank every three weeks and you need to and that’s part of your life and maybe you’re used to doing that, but even to go that next step and go to the food bank and maybe ask that male volunteer for pads and tampons but you’re probably not going to want to do that maybe I don’t now but I think it’s just really important for access not just to have things available financially but to take the stigma away so that people can ask for what they need.

MO Absolutely. I have a friend who was homeless when she was a youth and for basically from the time she was about sixteen until she was in her early twenties and the stories she had of trying to deal with her period while being in a precarious living situation, it just adds this layer that I can even imagine like some of the stuff she’s talking about like trying to fashion her own tampon out of pieces of material or toilet paper. How do you deal with that and the shame and stigma of it and if you can’t afford period products, and they’re damn expensive, I’ve had men be kind of defensive about it but if you think about how much money women spent on their period…

JH You would never hear of a person, regardless of their gender, say toilet paper is a luxury and you know that that’s an essential and it’s so important to be able to say that not only do I not have to worry about that, worry about where that money’s going to come from, to be able to buy that product, but also now I can talk about it freely, I can say to somebody this is a concern of mine. Bt when we start to make these ripples, maybe we can get people who have the ability to make change. Like groceries: imagine going to grocery store and being able to get your period products for free or at greatly reduced costs

MO I was feeling it’s equivalent to, and people may find this a little bit of a stretch but, we’re talking of Pharmacare and free drugs for all, things that are essential to our lives to keep us healthy, having period projects is part of keeping women healthy

JH It also contributes to healthy workplace, healthier school environment because I don’t have to worry about if can I go to school today or if can I go to work today. I don’t have to worry about those kinds of issues because I know that I have a support system in place where everybody says this is normal, this is how we encourage each other to be healthy and to have a healthier community.

MO Absolutely, and I think it’s a real issue here in Nova Scotia because we have a real poverty issue and just having to spend that extra money…

EC Well I haven’t thrown my statistics at you yet, Mary, so one in six households in Nova Scotia are food insecure, which means they can’t regularly afford healthy, nutritious food. So we know that the case would then be that they also probably can’t afford personal care products and thirty percent, one-third of Canadian women under twenty five have trouble affording menstrual supplies. One in seven girls misses school because she doesn’t have menstrual supplies. So it’s a health issue, it’s an economic issue, it’s a quality issue, it’s all of these things and the other thing is that it’s fixable.

MO No absolutely and I think it’s one of those systemic barriers that are in place for women actually advancing in the workplace and society, in education, because this is just yet another barrier that’s in place and so that’s why I really wanted to grab you and pull you onto the podcast because you know I think this really does need to be a union movement and so I really hope that our members have lots of pad parties and you get flooded with product because well it’s kind of that band aid or sticking a pad on it to stop the flow.

JH This is one of the conversations that Erin and I had which is exactly that: unions have historically been traditional movers and shakers. They have been responsible for changing workplace environments and changing communities for decades and decades, and this is why it’s so exciting to attend and to introduce this and have automatic reception. I mean people are not only receptive to it but they knew, there was an innate understanding from this group of women that was really very exciting. So there’s almost twenty two thousand of you.

MO Absolutely and I can say that I don’t know that I know anyone who has had a period who hasn’t had one of those moments where you’ve been…

EC Oh, do you have a tampon or do you have a pad?

JH Now imagine that you have one of those moments every month and the reason why is not because you didn’t bring anything with you or it was an unexpected visit from your friend, but it was the fact that you knew right from the beginning of the month that when that time comes you won’t have the money.

MO Or the people who go “Oh crap, I’m going to get my period next week and I don’t have the money for it.”

LH “So I guess I’ll be staying home if I can.” And then you raised the point of people experiencing homelessness which is another one of your barriers and again this is an issue, this all makes quite the awful mix, so if we do something about ending period poverty and that’s one last thing.

EC And one more thing I’ll say is what I have found in the last few years is that women really love to help other women in this very direct way so when you say to someone imagine what it would be like to have your period and not have any gear and not have any way to get any gear and people are horrified and so all women I think really love that feeling of “I’m buying this product and it’s going right to somebody who really needs it.” So it feels really good

MO Absolutely, and like I said thank you so much for letting me drag you into a little room. That’s how I introduced myself as “Can I drag you into a room?” and you went “What?”

EC I don’t get asked that every day, Mary.

JH It as a special moment between us

EC Thank you very much for having us

MO Thank you again and we will make sure that we put in the description of the podcast how to get in touch with you on the Facebook group Dignity Period and it looks like you have a hashtag #periodpovertyNS

EC Yeah, the hashtag I use most frequently is #periodpovertyNS and you can find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/DignityPeriodCampaign/

MO Awesome I looked it up and typed in Dignity Period and I liked you, and I like you guys, so thank you so much. I really look forward to having a pad party and getting involved, so thank you.

You’ve been listening to Union Matters, NSGEU podcast series. We hope you’ve enjoyed it. Please don’t forget to subscribe and if you have any ideas comments or questions let us know by sending us an email to Communications@nsgeu.ca or call us toll-free at 1-877-556-7438 You can join our NSGEU Facebook page and post comments there. See you again soon.

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