By ROSLYN CAMPBELL
I was 15 when I got my first period. I was so relieved because I was one of the last girls in my circle of friends to get it. I did a little dance and proclaimed to my friends that I was finally a woman, or something like that. Then I went to the cupboard and found the sanitary pads my mum bought for me, stuck one in my undies and continued on with life, without thinking twice about what had just happened.
I graduated high school, attended university, travelled, played sport, got a job and started a business. My period never got in the way of me doing any of these things.
I’m sure most Australian women can relate to my story.
Now, let’s go back to the moment I got my first period. What if my mother couldn’t afford sanitary pads? What would I have done? Where would I be now? What would it be like to have my period every month?
A few years ago I heard about the organisation One Girl and their Launch Pad program, where they work in Sierra Leone, West Africa to make biodegradable, affordable sanitary pads available to women and girls. In many developing countries like Sierra Leone, women and girls do not have access to sanitary pads. They are simply too expensive. Instead, they rely on methods including rags, layered underwear, kitchen sponges, newspaper and even leaves and bark. These methods are not ideal, along with the higher chance of embarrassing leaks; they can cause health problems like infections, rashes and cuts.
What really stuck with me was that something as manageable as a period could be a barrier to education for millions of girls in the developing world. Girls could miss up to a week of school every month, which would often result in them falling so far behind that they would have to drop out.
I decided to become an Ambassador for One Girl at the start of this year. I’m also about to launch a social enterprise selling disposable sanitary pads made from bamboo fibre and will partner with charities to provide women in need with pads.
These things led to me signing up for One Girl’s fundraising initiative, Do It In A Dress- a simple fundraising campaign where you pick a challenge, raise $300 and do it in a school dress- which enables a girl in Sierra Leone the opportunity to go to school for a year.
For my challenge I wanted something that did more than just raise money. I wanted something that would create a conversation and raise awareness about why One Girl exists. I wanted to do something that would personally reinforce why I’m starting my business. So I decided to have my period in a dress. But not in the way I normally have it. I replaced my pads and moon cup with some of the methods used by women in Sierra Leone.
I’ve just finished the challenge and it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. In fact, it was the hardest period I’ve ever had.
(I did walk in a park at one point though, with a kitchen sponge in between my legs, crying, because my vagina was on fire and each step I took made it worse.)
I didn’t think I would be affected physically in the ways I’d heard about. I mean, I don’t have to walk for kilometres every day, I can have hot showers, I have a clean home. It felt like my main concern would be worrying about the embarrassment of getting blood stains on my dress.
On the fifth day, after using rags, sponges, toilet paper and newspaper, I was faced with the prospect of putting bark and leaves in my undies. I had basically finished bleeding on this day, but thought maybe I should just put it in my pants to see what it felt like.
Then I went to a tree to get some bark. If I can urge you to do one thing today, it would be to go to your nearest tree and take a look at the bark on there. Feel it, smell it and really look at it. Then imagine putting it in your pants and try to go about your daily routine with it there. Bark is rough and hard, it’s dirty, it hides spiders and bugs. At this moment, I decided I would be mad to put this near my already sensitive lady bits, and decided from that point my challenge was finished.
This moment was really important for me. For a woman to be in the situation where she has no other option but to use bark, she is not in a good place. This is the reason why I did the challenge. This is the reason why I am starting my business. There are women out there facing these conditions every month, and it is in our power to lend them a helping hand.
You can read about my challenge in more detail and perhaps even have a laugh at my expense at Do It In A Dress.
Are you interested in signing up to Do It In A Dress this October (note: doesn’t have to involve your period!)? Your challenge can be anything from hosting a BBQ, going surfing, running a marathon or just wearing a school dress for a whole day or week! You can do anything you like, as long as you do it in a dress! This year our aim is to raise $500,000 and enable over 1,666 girls to access education!
Sign up at www.doitinadress.com.
Roslyn Campbell is a Melbourne-based designer, entrepreneur and Ambassador for the start-up charity One Girl.