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Podcast Episode 02 - Period Poverty with Hannah Bruneau

Courtney Jones: Hello and welcome to the Feminist Law Podcast. I'm your co-host Courtney Jones.


Clara Topiol: And I'm your co-host Clara Topiol, we're both co-founders of the Feminist Law, and final year law students who are very passionate about feminism and the law.

Today on the podcast, we have our first guest, Hannah Bruneau, a fellow final year law student, former events manager of Period Poverty Exeter. Hannah, would you please like to introduce yourself?


Hannah Bruneau: Hello, I'm Hannah. As Clara said, I'm in my final year of my law degree. And we're here in France. I also was the events manager for Period Poverty at Exeter. And one of the directors, because it was very new last year. It was our first proper year being Guild-affiliated and that's what I was in charge of.


Courtney Jones: Wonderful. So, could you tell us a little bit more about Period Poverty Exeter? So, what does Period Poverty do? What's your mission?


Hannah Bruneau: Well, so we were a non-profit organization, student-led organization. We mainly focused on spreading awareness about period poverty. Whilst our main focus was period poverty, we were talking about taboos around menstruation and that sort of thing. We had joint lectures as well as events. Our main thing that we did last year, our main sort of project was working, collecting sanitary products for Ukraine and for the Ukraine appeal which is still ongoing this year.

And we actually won an award for the best new society for things that we did throughout the uni. So, putting pressure for new, for free sanitary products in the university. But mainly it was spreading awareness and it was getting people to talk about menstruation and period poverty and what that really means. Because a lot of people don't really know what period poverty actually means as a concept.


Courtney Jones: So, can you maybe expand on that a little bit more? What exactly is period poverty.


Hannah Bruneau: So, period poverty is essentially not having the means to afford sanitary products when menstruating. So, one in 10 girls, the current statistic in the UK is that one in 10 girls don't go to school when they're on their period because they can't afford sanitary products.

And you know, that's just looking at schoolgirls. It goes throughout, you know, many demographics. And so period poverty is essentially not being able to have sanitary products when you're on your period.


Clara Topiol: That sounds really interesting and thank you for sharing all of that, Hannah. Can I ask about the legal side? So how would you say that the Pink Tax would influence, for example, period poverty? And for example, if we were to make free sanitary products available in schools, do you think this would have a positive impact?


Hannah Bruneau: I mean, absolutely because if you see, as I said, the statistics one in 10 girls not going to school. And I mean, if you think about how much of school then they will miss. And that extends. We were all at university, having free sanitary products in university buildings which was one of the main things that we wanted; that was in our manifesto for the year. And we put a lot of pressure on the university. And you know, you've got Scotland, for example.

They put in legislation that free sanitary products needed to be available in schools, already creating a massive difference. And you can see other institutions like universities taking this on board and getting involved with that. But it is a massive, massive difference that it makes because I think about how much you spend every month on sanitary products et cetera.

And with that comes a degree of shame surrounding your period. You know, maybe you're younger, maybe your family doesn't talk about it, maybe you're not learning about it. It filters down into all these different parts of your lives that are equally important. So that was the main thing that our focus was based on.


Courtney Jones: Yeah, I mean you mentioned quite a bit about the shame associated with periods. I mean, I remember being like a 12-year-old girl and getting my period for the first time and being worried about bleeding through my clothes. So, you want to maybe talk about that a little bit more and why there's still such a shame associated with menstruation and why girls still need to worry about the monthly bleed and a bit more about the stigma?


Hannah Bruneau: Yeah, completely. I mean, so ironically, not ironically, one of the first events that we did last year was we had a games night pizza party event, and it was B Y O B. So, bring your own booze, but also bring your own boy. Because if we think about it, a lot of the shame is coming from external sources where it's a lack of understanding.

And I think that's one of the main things that we need to tackle. Because if you've got people saying "Oh, but that's disgusting," or I grew up in a family where I've got two brothers and a father, and my mom, it would be a very hushed surreptitiously teaching me about tampons.

Like I remember dropping a tampon in an exam once in GCSEs and no one would stop talking about it. There's intense shame when it comes to periods. But I think, when the shame is not only because it's something icky and disgusting seen as it's when that then becomes dangerous as well. And when that shame leads to harm, I think that's also something that really needs to be talked about more.


Courtney Jones: Yeah, I mean, talking about fathers, I remember my own dad sending me into the pharmacy and waiting in the car, so he would give me cash.


Hannah Bruneau: Yes! No, exactly!


Courtney Jones: Yeah, because he was embarrassed to be seen with somebody buying period products. I want to go into a little bit about the harm and the danger associated with the stigma and maybe bring in a little bit of a global perspective. So, could you maybe explain what you mean with that?


Hannah Bruneau: Yeah, completely. I mean, so in a lot of cultures, being on your period isn't just seen, as I said, as this sort of icky, disgusting thing. It's actually seen as maybe you bring bad luck to your family, to your community. You're dirty, you're untouchable in a way. I experienced it first-hand.

I was in Nepal for two and a half months where they have a practice that's called chaupadiand it's practiced in quite a lot of territories in Northern India and western Nepal. And what essentially the practice teaches is that when women are menstruating, they are bad luck to their communities, to their families.

In extreme communities, women when they're menstruating, aren't allowed in the house. They sleep in a hut, separate the entirety of the time that they're menstruating. In less strict households, there's certain utensils that you use when you're cooking, cleaning, that kind of thing. I only noticed it was going on because I went to go into the kitchen. I was staying in home stay. I went to go into the kitchen to help and I got shooed out the kitchen and I had to sit outside and eat because I was dirty, because I was menstruating. And I was a guest and treated with respect, but that I was still not allowed. And my ama, the woman who was looking after me, she just disappeared for five days, and we didn't put two and two together until afterwards.

Whilst that can seem not dangerous per se, there's been cases of rapes, of murders of women and girls who are essentially banished to these huts. And again, the shame that must come with that, you are not allowed to do anything.


Courtney Jones: Yes, and you experienced that first-hand being shooed out of a kitchen.


Hannah Bruneau: Yeah.


Courtney Jones: When you experienced that, that was a bit of a taste of how these women must feel on a daily basis. So how did you feel when that happened?


Hannah Bruneau: First of all, it felt bizarre to me because, whilst there is a great degree of shame and taboo still for us, there isn't that level. We would all talk to each other about our periods, and we'd talk to each other about cramps, and as you said, with your father, becoming more of a feminist, I am very outspoken about it. But when I was in Nepal, it wasn't a case that you could even make statements like that, it was genuinely, it was just shut down. It was disgusting. You were bad luck, and it was very definitive. And it did make me feel like I was disgusting, like something that was happening to me that I couldn't help made me disgusting.

And also, on your period, you're not feeling your best anyway. And I was away from home. And it was a really, really horrible experience.


Courtney Jones: Mm-hmm.


Hannah Bruneau: And you can't imagine how those women and girls feel as well. And it's, and this is a thing that happens every month for a large part of their lives.


Courtney Jones: And I guess the last kind of follow up question I have to that is, are there campaigns to end these period huts?


Hannah Bruneau: So, I haven't in Nepal - I didn't experience any, I have since done research about it. In Nepal it's very much something that happens in rural communities. So, say in some of the largest cities, like Kathmandu for example - I was in, so I was in a rural community in the Gorkha region, and one of the girls I was with was from Kathmandu, and she found the practice bizarre.

She said, this is not what would happen in Kathmandu. So, it's very much something that happens more in the rural communities. But there's not really a push to end it because no one from the city is really going to these rural communities.

In India, however, there has been legislation passed to do with women menstruating being allowed in religious buildings. There were riots. About that because again, it's the dirty aspect of being on your period. But I haven't seen really any campaigns to end the actual practice of chaupadi.


Clara Topiol: It must be really horrible and isolating for these women who obviously suffer from the consequences of these period huts. But equally as you said, these periods only really exist in the rural areas. So, you almost think maybe they don't know any different, maybe they don't know that this is not common practice in other areas of the world.


Hannah Bruneau: Yeah.


Clara Topiol: As Courtney mentioned, obviously protests and campaigns are not really a thing. But do you think maybe introducing legislation in the area could help or at least raise awareness about the issue and sort of boost for a better future for these women and, you know, change things with future generations because the period huts are such just horrible.


Hannah Bruneau: Yeah. Well, I mean, so interesting, when I was there and my reason for being in this community was that we were teaching about sanitation. So, we were building pumps, but I was also teaching girls how to make sanitary pads out of scrap material and that kind of thing.

So, then we were getting conversations going. We were talking the head of the women's committee in this village. She was a young woman, she was 26, already had three kids. She was incredible. So, so intelligent, you know that she would've run a country, had circumstances been different.

And I remember talking to her about the issues to do with periods and saying, is this what you want for your daughters? And her saying, no, it's not what we want, but what can we do? And these rural communities are a sort of like self-contained entity.

So, legislation... I don't think it would really reach. I think raising awareness would but then as we say, as you say, you never know because in India, with the legislation being passed about women going into religious buildings, even when they're menstruating, that's then a cultural shift. And whilst there's riots and there's pushback, it is a culture shift. So, I think when it comes to these period huts, I don't know if legislation would actually hit to the degree. But maybe it would then filter if there was an awareness spread as well.


Clara Topiol: You make a very good point. I think it is just important to keep the conversation flowing and open.


Hannah Bruneau: Completely.


Clara Topiol: And even amongst ourselves. We don't even live anywhere near Nepal or these religions in India. But I think it's very important to raise awareness, especially for when people go out there and travel, to know what to expect, but also to maybe think about what they could be telling the local community about it and the impact they might be having on them.


Hannah Bruneau: All I would say is take a menstrual cup. , good god. Take a menstrual cup. Like any traveling that you're doing, anything. Honestly it will save your life.


Courtney Jones: There we have it.


Hannah Bruneau: Yeah.


Courtney Jones: Some menstruation advice. Make sure you buy one of those menstrual cups.


Hannah Bruneau: Yeah, absolutely.


Clara Topiol: Brilliant advice.

I was wondering, Hannah how can our listeners get involved with period poverty if they wanted to get involved, whether that is in Exeter or elsewhere across the country?


Hannah Bruneau: Right. Well, there are actually so many ways to get involved. There's, so Exeter obviously have Period Poverty Exeter, they're @periodpovertyexe on Instagram, Facebook. But lots of universities and other institutions have similar branches and that kind of thing. We worked with a charity called Sanitree. They're absolutely brilliant, really great to get involved and there's ways you can get involved by donating sanitary products. You can organize a drive.

As I said, we worked a lot for getting sanitary products out to Ukraine. The way that we did that was work very closely, we just did our research. A local church was sending things out to Ukraine and we got sanitary products from the university to the church, sent them out.

Bloody Good Period - another great platform to just start talking about period poverty, wider issues to do with menstruation. There's something everywhere. There really is. And all these Instagram handles. They all then have different branches.

Those are sort of the main ones that I would, and if you're at university and there isn't one, there's your opportunity. Yeah.


Clara Topiol: Brilliant. Thank you so much for sharing that. I think you've covered it then, Hannah. So, thank you so much for joining us today.


Hannah Bruneau: Thank you for having me.


Courtney Jones: If you have any suggestions for this podcast, let us know directly via email at contact@feministlaw.org


Clara Topiol: Please also visit our website at feministlaw.org and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn to keep up to date with our latest articles, podcasts, newsletters, and exciting news.

Courtney Jones: The music for this podcast was sourced from pixabay.com Thanks for listening.


Transcribed by: Gaia D'Arro

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