The Cambridge Period Project
Blog by Lydia, medical student at the University of Cambridge and founding member of The Cambridge Period Project.
Starting The Cambridge Period Project
Last year, in my role as Co-Chair of the Sexual & Reproductive Health Committee of Students for Global Health Cambridge, I conducted a survey to establish the level of menstrual product provision in all the university colleges. The results shocked me. A ‘period postcode lottery’ exists within our university whereby the level of support provided for students who menstruate varies immensely across the colleges – while a minority of colleges provide free products in bathrooms, in some colleges menstrual products are kept in locked cupboards or need to be requested from the (often male) porters! We don’t see anywhere near this much variation in the provision of sexual health supplies, such as condoms, which are freely and readily available in all colleges, thanks to the centralised Cambridge Student Union’s Sexual Health Scheme. In another survey of over 600 students who menstruate, we found that 51.6% find purchasing period products to be a financial burden, with 12.5% experiencing this persistently.
It was clear that something had to be done to ensure period products are as freely available and as easily accessible as sexual health supplies. I founded The Cambridge Period Project, with my Students for Global Health committee, to bring about central change within our university. With the Cambridge Student Union’s Women’s Campaign, we launched an open letter, addressed to the Vice-Chancellor and Heads of the 31 colleges, asking the university to support the introduction of a free menstrual product scheme. However, The Cambridge Period Project goals do not end there.
While the university is known for its prestige and wealth, Cambridge has infamously been branded the “UK’s most unequal city”. The staggering levels of homelessness in the city highlight some of the problems those who menstruate may face, namely having to choose between menstrual products and other necessities, such as food and shelter. We collaborated with StreetCramps, a national charity that makes boxes containing products to support homeless people with their periods, in order to deliver this service to those in need in Cambridge. Earlier this year we raised over £200 for boxes, each containing tampons, pads, liners, heat pads, deodorant, baby wipes and underwear, and distributed them with the help of local charitable housing association, CHS Group.
My experience as a young person leading a project
Leading The Cambridge Period Project has been immensely rewarding, but not without its challenges. It was fulfilling to receive such an overwhelmingly positive response from Cambridge students (not least period poverty activist, Amika George!) and staff, as well as other students from around the country and national period poverty activist groups, such as HeyGirls UK. It has been challenging to balance the demands of a medical degree with the work of this project, but these positive responses have been incredibly encouraging and have inspired me to keep up this important work. Leading this project has been a massive learning curve for me – I have never led a campaign before and so I’ve been learning on the job! I’ve definitely made mistakes along the way, but I’ve been able to learn from them and implement what I’ve learnt quickly with the support of such a fantastic team – we are all supporting each other as we navigate the project together.
How can you support?
🩸 Follow The Cambridge Period Project on social media
📝 Sign our open letter, if you are a Cambridge student or alumni
✉ ️Send an open letter to the head of your university – feel free to use ideas from our open letter or BloodyGoodPeriod also have a template you can use
❤ ️Please donate period products to your local food banks (though sadly not all accept them – if so please encourage them to do so!)
💰 Please donate to period poverty charities such as Irise International, FreePeriods and BloodyGoodPeriod (who have been providing homeless people and asylum seekers with essential menstrual products before and during the pandemic)