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Meet The Women Addressing Period Poverty In Hackney

A year ago, Gemma Abbott, 37, and Elise Evans, 36, launched the Red Box Project in North Hackney offering free sanitary products to young people in need.

Today, they have 67 red boxes at primary and secondary schools throughout the area – ensuring children and teenagers who don’t have access to sanitary towels and tampons due to poverty or other constraints don’t suffer.

It means fewer school days missed and less stress and anxiety.

Gemma, who lives in Stoke Newington, said: “For many families in poverty it’s as much as they can manage to buy food – many simply can’t afford menstrual products.  Other young people don’t have access to them for social or cultural reasons – maybe they don’t live with anyone they can talk about this with, or they live in abusive homes where these products are withheld deliberately. Culturally for some girls having a period is a huge stigma; for some admitting they’ve reached womanhood may mean greater risk of arranged marriage or female genital mutilation. There are a great many reasons why someone might not have access to menstrual products at home.

“That’s why we don’t ask why students need to use the red box – they are encouraged to take what they need for that period, and the start of the next. We keep the boxes stocked, so young people can rely on us. We know that schools do as much as they can - and many teachers have already been buying menstrual products for students out of their own pockets - but this shouldn’t fall to them.”

Sanitary items are donated by members of the community and local companies, and Gemma and Elise have also set up a Just Giving page to fund the costs of running the project (in particular to meet the cost of storage).

You can donate (unopened) packets of menstrual products at Beaucatcher Hair Salon on Stoke Newington Church Street, Harvest on the High Street, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s in Stamford Hill and at libraries throughout the borough (a full list of drop-off points is on their Facebook page). If you would prefer to donate cash, donations towards storage costs would make a huge difference to the project.

Gemma and Elise describe their initiative as: “A simple scheme, made with love for the young people  in our community.

“No tearful panics in the loo. No wadded-up toilet roll. No missed lessons or staying at home. No anxious embarrassment.”

Running the Red Box Project locally is a massive time commitment – around a day a week of work for Gemma and Elise.  Gemma, a lawyer and a mother of two, is also Director of Free Periods, who have recently launched a legal campaign to compel the Government to provide free sanitary products in schools for anyone who needs them.”

She added: “We are calling on the Government to take action, because we believe they have an obligation under the Equalities Act to make sure no-one is discriminated against in terms of access to education.”

To donate to the Red Box Project, check out their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/redboxprojecthackneynorth/

    For many families in poverty it’s as much as they can manage to buy food – many simply can’t afford menstrual products.

    Posted 11th April 2019