Below is an edited version of a speech given by Lucy Neal from Freedom4Girls at the opening of our exhibition, Periods: a Brief Jaunt up North. We thought that it would be great to share some of the fantastic work that Lucy and her colleagues are doing in Leeds.
My name is Lucy, I am the Education Workshop Coordinator for Freedom4Girls, a UK based charity fighting against Period Poverty. We work to support those who menstruate by challenging stigmas, taboos and gender inequities associated with menstruation, we do this by providing education, providing period products, promoting product choice, and supporting environmentally and financially sustainable options.
Part of my work is offering Free Education Workshops across Leeds, I think its important to talk about Menstruation, period poverty, women’s health issues, and safe menstrual protection. I love to talk about Periods, so getting this job was something I feel really passionate about. Going into schools normalises the conversation around periods, by making them less taboo, reducing shame and stigma and empowering people who experience menstruation. In a safe way, it makes menstruation a positive experience.
Having been approached by the museum to ask if Freedom4Girls were interested in being involved with the Periods exhibition, I recruited artists, Leigh Bowser and Alice Needham, to co-create workshops in the community and artwork for the gallery and we started to contact community groups in Leeds.
We delivered our first workshop at East Leeds Academy, in Seacroft, to Year 10 students, where we had been previously delivering education sessions. The group talked a lot about having their periods at school, and having to hide it, and also experiencing pain. During our time with East Leeds Academy, the students raised the issue about having to ask the teachers to go to the toilet and not been allowed during lesson time – this was then raised by the teacher who changed the policy within the school to get the students to show a red page in their planner to the teacher if they needed to leave the lesson. The class even appeared on the local news about this issue. The pupils were quite shy about periods at the beginning of the workshop, but by the end were very vocal and even made the ‘All vulvas are beautiful’ textile art which you can see in the exhibition today.
Our second workshop was with Transtastic, a trans youth group for people who identify as Trans aged 13-18 years old, ran by Leeds city council, this workshop included discussions on periods having no gender, which is represented in the mural art, having no periods, wanting periods, and finding them challenging whilst chatting, socialising, and sewing.
Our third Workshop was with Heydays, a weekly creative programme that runs at West Yorkshire Playhouse. The group were really open and discussed their period journey which included lots of talk on fertility, baby loss, childlessness, menopause, families, our different journeys – the time and space to reflect on what it is to be a woman. The group also was keen to volunteer on our future sewing workshops with Freedom4Girls.
Our final workshop was with Girls Together from Breaking Down Barriers, a Harehills Youth Project. This concluded the embroidery project where the young women did embroidery art, sewing powerful messages onto tampons (now displayed in the exhibition). The workshop aimed to represent the voice of a diverse range of people in Leeds, their journey through menstruation and what they wish they had known. It was really empowering to hear the journeys and experiences of all individuals- so important to talk about to continue reducing stigma and taboo. It was a honour to work alongside Leigh, Alice, The Vagina Museum, Freedom4Girls, the community groups and Thackray Museum on this project, and hearing and sharing the stories around Periods.
I hope you enjoy the exhibition and share your own story.