tampon tax

Q&A: Oxford Dignity Drive

Hello to the gang at Oxford Dignity Drive! Can you tell us a bit about yourselves; who you are and what you all do?

In March 2015, Dignity Drive was set up by Wadham College students Rachel Besenyei and Niamh McIntyre, to raise awareness and combat period poverty! This took the form of an initial week of fundraising events, and a drive for donations of sanitary products which were then delivered to homeless shelters, and refuges around Oxford. We (Laura, Issy, and Hannah-Lily) took over last summer., and since then we have been raising more funds, and distributing products around Oxford. 

Why are you working for this cause? Do you believe it to be an international issue?

The issue of period poverty is especially prevalent in the UK at the moment because of the current government’s massive cuts to homelessness services, which often hit women harder. There has been a 50% cut in services since 2010, and in that time homelessness in the UK has doubled.

The lack of sanitary products for women is often talked about as the ‘unseen’ side of homelessness, and so even when people donate to food banks, often they just don’t consider it. Periods remain a taboo subject across the world, but we are focusing on Oxford in particular because of the widely acknowledged issue of homelessness in the city.

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So what do the Oxford Dignity Drive do to help?

In 2015 we ran a week of events aimed to raise awareness around the unspoken issue of period poverty, including film screenings, panel events, and an exhibition. Increasing the discussion around menstruation as a means of combatting this taboo is vital, and we hope that by doing so it will become part of every discussion surrounding homelessness.

The other major work we do is raising money, and taking physical donations. Recently we have been raising funds through union motions, and then delivering them as soon as we can to food banks and refuges in Oxfordshire. As necessary as raising awareness is, we know that this is a tangible, urgent issue, and so our aim is to provide resources as quickly as possible.

Tell us about some of these events that you’ve been holding, or plans you have!

Last term we worked on diversifying the places we donate to, and identified that there was a potential issue in that homeless shelters are predominantly used by men. So we contacted a number of women’s refuges, and are now aiming to help them too. We’ve also been continuing to raise awareness through social media, and are planning some more events, as well as a week-long drive in mid-February. You can follow our Facebook page to keep up-to-date, and watch this space!

What would you ask of local residents to do in support?

If you’re thinking about donating to food banks or shelters, make sure you include sanitary products as well as food products (this can include toiletries too, they’re all greatly appreciated!).

Spread the word, confront the taboo, and tell all your friends about Dignity Drive!

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Perhaps on a more national scale, what can everyone do to help?

It’s really the same as above; there is a nationwide campaign called #thehomelessperiod which has a big petition, and takes just 10 seconds to sign. There are also a number of regional campaigns doing the same as us – at universities in particular – so check whether your university has one, and if not you could consider setting one up! We can help, so please get in touch if you would like any advice.

Would you like to say anything else to the lovely Anthem readers?

We would like you to help us in raising awareness around period poverty. Whether it’s sharing an article, telling your friends, or making donations to food banks yourself. We are always looking for more people to help Oxford Dignity Drive as well, so locals to the area can contact us on Facebook, and we’ll let you know how to get involved.

Lastly, we will always continue trying to combat this issue, but ultimately we are picking up the slack of deficient government services. Write to your MP, and be considerate of any party’s policies surrounding homelessness when making personal political choices!

Sanitary products are not a luxury – they are a necessity. 

 

Oxford Dignity Drive do some great work, and you can keep learning about their work, and what you can do via the following:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/oxdignitydrive/?fref=ts 
GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/sfdprg

Words by Briony Brake with responses from the team at Oxford Dignity Drive
Images by Oxford Dignity Drive

Why I Got My Boobs Out For Feminism

“Alright. Tops off then.”

It’s a Monday afternoon and I’m stood in a church in Sidcup wearing only my black skinny jeans and favourite pair of shoes. The ones that make me feel powerful. I’m staring down the lens of a camera, thinking of all the times I ever felt like I couldn’t do something because I was a woman, or got spoken over, or made to feel like I wasn’t pretty enough, or skinny enough, or that any of those things even mattered. My boobs are out for the stained glass windows to see, but in this moment they’re completely desexualised. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt as okay with my body as I do in this moment.

The other girls having their photos taken (and MJ, directing the photos, who has got her boobs out too) have different body types to me, and it strikes me that I don’t know the last time I saw a normal girls body; that wasn’t stick thin, or model level hairless. We’re all just feminine bodies, together, in this space. And it feels fantastic.

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When MJ asked me to be a part of her exhibition, Stuck Up Cunts, which she devised with Ellamae after female sanitary products were labelled as a luxury under the Tampon Tax, I said yes in an instant. When she asked how I felt about nudity, my answer took a bit more thinking about.

I had always assumed that everyone has issues with their body, and that absolutely no one was okay with how they looked. I thought that this was a given; that it was just something unspoken across all women. It took quite a long time for me to realise that this is utter bullshit, and that even if this was the case – it didn’t make it okay. It’s not okay to not like how you look, it’s not okay to be uncomfortable in your own skin. It’s not okay to not want to wear a swimming costume, to be seen looking anything less than perfect, to not want to look in the mirror.

So when everyone started taking their tops off in a free the nipple frenzy of feminism, and I found myself joining in without much of a second thought, I was the most surprised of all. But I did it, and you know what? It felt fucking excellent. I posed and stretched and looked straight down that camera, and truly felt like I was living inside my own skin, like it was mine, and like I was proud of it.

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Myself and my experience aside, the shoot did something bigger – it made all the women who saw it feel like they weren’t alone.

“A lot of people have said they also found it quite liberating, that we’ve done this, that we’ve put it on. They said that they needed this kind of radical input, because they’d never seen anything like it” Ellamae told me on the penultimate day of the exhibition at Rose Bruford College, where her and MJ are just finishing their degrees in American Theatre Arts. “A girl came in here and said ‘I don’t think I would have liked this exhibit if it was just one person modelling, I don’t think it would have made a difference to me, because I’d still feel really insecure about myself. But the fact I’ve seen so many diverse women as a collective, working together on this; I feel like it’s made an impact on me.’”  And as other students came in and out of that room, and disappeared behind a curtain to print their vaginas with paint for the vagina wall, it did feel like a very diverse collection of women coming together for something special. Everyone who came in and looked at the photos seemed to be revelling in one thing –bodies, just being bodies.

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The images that have sparked the most attention so far, including an article in an Icelandic magazine, are the ones that are inspired by the tampon tax. When I asked MJ about where the idea for these came from she told me “It’s the irony of it being taxed as luxury – I was like ‘we should just totally get loads of massive dresses and wear tampons as earrings and all that kinda stuff, just to highlight the sheer fucking ridiculousness of luxury products. Like, no, no it’s not, I’m not shoving a Ferrero Rocher up my vagina.”

And so a shoot was born. Born out of a rage at things still not changing, at still having to put up with the system being forever stacked against women.  

MJ told me “I like shouting about it. It just excites me. But I think that’s just me because I’m a bit naughty and I like having fun like that, getting into trouble. I want to do stuff that in no way is quiet, because I think we can’t be quiet anymore; we’ve been quiet for so long.”

For me in particular, this struck a chord. I’ve always been privy to a bit of a discussion, an angry tweet now and then. But that’s not enough is it? It’s time to shout. And taking part in these photos, exposing my body, for me, felt like shouting. And I was shouting at myself just as much as at anyone else.

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For someone who has lived a life uncomfortable with how they look, it’s important to realise that it took a grand acceptance, to make me love it. I spoke to Ellamae and MJ about being a teenage girl, and asked what they would tell their 14-year-old selves about Stuck Up Cunts.

Ellame: “It’s really difficult because at that age I was getting into the age of trying to sexualise myself and flirt with boys. Those are the ages where you’re like ‘oh my god my boobs are growing, and I’m starting to look like a woman’”

MJ: “I mean I never experienced that – I did experience five padded bras”

Ellamae: “Your body shape changes though, you would have had a very straight figure, then your hips come in-”

MJ: “-and you’re like what the fuck is going on?”

“What we do now, I don’t think I could have done if I’d grown up in this perfect feminist world.” MJ went on to say. “All of this is reaction, and I think that this is my reaction to how I felt when I was 14 and what I think about it now. This whole thing is ‘why the fuck did you ever think like that?’”

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And what next? Where now? “I don’t think I’m finished fighting” MJ told me.
And as for me? I’ve only just started.

Stuck Up Cunts is going to the Edinburgh Fringe, and Ellamae and MJ have asked me to help develop a piece of theatre to go with it that will be headed to Summerhall at the beginning of August. Stay tuned for more information!

 

Words by Sian Brett.

Photos for Stuck up Cunts, by Ellamae Cieslik and MJ Ashton.