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International Women's Day: on being bold

Following the 'Let's All Be Bold For Change' talk by Professor Helen Berry, the Dean of Postgraduate Studies who spoke about a photographic portrait series featuring North-East woman who have worked to benefit the region, I was inspired to be involved in International Women's Day as a Change-Maker, representing Newcastle University's School of English. 

In advance of the big day, March 8th 2017, I sent emails across department to inform people about a new donation point. It consisted of a simple laundry basket with provocations (supplied by IWD) such as Imagine you are homeless. Then you get your period and What do you do if you can't afford tampons?  This call for action was in response to the campaign theme: #BeBoldForChange. Surprisingly enough, even pressing send on an email asking my peers to make these donations felt much bolder than other drives I had led. After some hesitation, I pressed the button and opened up the conversation. Because let's face it, menstruation is a subject we continue to shy away from talking about openly, in particular between sexes in what is another shame-driven narrative with which women are physically and psychologically burdened.

International Women's Day is fast becoming a global movement based upon action as much as it is upon dialogue. This campaign invited staff and students alike to donate feminine hygiene items, toiletries and baby care items. Admittedly, these are not all uniquely the responsibility of women to purchase but they are certainly largely our responsibility. As featured in the recent film I, Daniel Blake these items are just as essential for personal well-being and good health to those women who access food banks for the nourishment and satiety of a square meal.

The responsibility of purchasing these items are one of many personal and financial responsibilities women take on. It's a challenging responsibility which girls and young women from poor backgrounds often have to tackle on their own, thereby setting the standard for a role of duty in what is a world ready to furnish young women with yet more accumulative duties. Today children whose family income falls below adequate are, as I was at school, handed a pass which you'd have to go through the galling process of getting stamped every lunchtime. But at the very least, this guilt system meant you had indeed eaten lunch, which might be the only meal you'd have that day. No such support system existed then - or now - for feminine hygiene items for girls, which I think we can all agree are far from a 'luxury'.

There is iron in her soul on those days. She smells like a gun.

- Jeanette Winterson

Inviting both male and female peers to contribute to this campaign, I hope that we could raise what is becoming the obvious question of the Tampon Tax. If we can get this levied, we might form a movement that initiates change and can unpick and redress gender imbalance in pay disparity more broadly. 

This post is to acknowledge and thank each person who contributed to the drive. All items are going where they are most needed via support networks for local women's refuge centres and food banks. There was an overwhelmingly bold and generous response to the campaign, which found solidarity in the School of English and across campus.



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