The Oxford University Student Union is launching a campaign calling for the provision of free menstrual products across the University. As well as addressing period poverty, “The Oxford Period” campaign aims to normalise free access to sustainable period products for all menstruating students and lead discussions about women’s reproductive health.
This builds on the achievements of campaign founder and Co-President, Sofia Olendraru, who won the SU Student Voice Award in Trinity Term 2022 for her work obtaining free period products at Worcester College.
“It still feels incredible to have that recognition of my work,” Olendraru told Cherwell. “I wanted to keep working on this, which is why I helped start The Oxford Period and the award has given me access to a lot of support from the SU like funding and advice that’s been really valuable.”
When founding The Oxford Period, Olendraru came together with students from other colleges, who have all advocated for free period products in their own JCRs. The campaign now hopes to create cohesion between the efforts of individual Women’s Officers, believing that a university-wide initiative may help to solve the problems caused by disparities in college funding and budget-allocation policies.
“The number of students from low-income backgrounds at the University of Oxford is increasing overall and this, on top of the cost-of-living crisis, means that period products are sometimes just not affordable,” campaign strategist Eva Hogan told Cherwell. “Given the context of school absenteeism due to periods in female students across the country, we believe the University has an imperative to provide free products.”
Since 2017, the number of students at Oxford from ACORN categories 4 and 5 has increased by 6.7%. Hogan told Cherwell she was aware of students who use period products sparingly, as a result of rising costs.
“Period poverty is distinct from other types of poverty because of its gendered and corporeal nature, and the daily shame attached to periods, which is why it’s so important to tackle it,” she added.
Despite this, she acknowledged that period poverty may be less prevalent in Oxford than in statistically poorer areas of the UK, an argument which she says has posed challenges for those advocating free periods at Oxford in the past.
However, the campaign will also look at factors beyond affordability, with its other core emphasis being on the normalisation of free periods. “No factor should influence whether you pick up menstrual products, even if you think you can afford them,” Hogan expanded. “We want you to pick up menstrual products because you menstruate. Also, because we’re at a university where students are quite statistically likely to end up in positions of power, it’s important to set a standard, so that future leaders can hopefully bring free periods into the workplace or into policy.”
As an initial aim, The Oxford Period intends to collect signatures for an open letter, which will call on Oxford University to provide free period products in all colleges and university buildings. The Cambridge Period Project at Cambridge University recently succeeded with a similar open-letter proposal. The campaign has also been inspired by Oxford’s Green Party councillors Rosie Rawle and Lucy Pegg, who made free period products available in the city’s public buildings from July 2022.
Beyond this, The Oxford Period wants to start important conversations about women’s health and plans to host discussions challenging the stigma around menstruation.“There’s such a horrific lack of research into menstrual health, because of how it was historically perceived by men, meaning that girls still often don’t feel comfortable going to their GP and can’t get the medical help they need,” Hogan said.
Consequently, The Oxford Period hopes to organise educational panel discussions throughout the campaign, in conversation with medics, researchers, and menstruators. These may address topics, such as birth control, menstruation in the workplace, and the experiences of non-binary people, and the experiences of women who are unable to menstruate.
The Oxford Period will be represented at the SU Freshers’ Fair on 6th-7th October 2022.
Image credit: Sofia Olendraru