Why ActionAid is going to Latitude to bust period taboos | ActionAid UK

Yes, it's the time of the month to talk about periods again. I always get super excited about festivals – the music, the dancing, the food... but this week I’m even more excited than usual, because not only am I going to Latitude - one of the UK's best music and culture festivals - but I'm going there with the ActionAid team to do something pretty out there - bust period taboos!

Festival-goers partying away at Latitude 2015. You certainly can’t dance on someone’s shoulders like that if you’re on your period without a sanitary towel!
Festival-goers partying away at Latitude 2015. You certainly can’t dance on someone’s shoulders like that if you’re on your period without a sanitary towel!

What have periods got to do with festivals?

Well, festivals are one of the worst times to be on your period, right? With sanitary items hard to come by, smelly and unsanitary portaloos, and a lack of soap and running water, managing your period and keeping yourself clean and your clothes stain-free is virtually impossible. At a time when all you want is comfort - a.k.a. a big cosy duvet, a bath and a hot water bottle - you have to make do with the sheer basics.

So for me, festivals are one of the few occasions when I really appreciate my bathroom back home - even the bin and the light bulb. (Let's face it - it's no fun trying to put a tampon in in a pitch-black portaloo, or carry around a used sanitary pad wrapped in loo roll until you find somewhere to dispose of it!)

Friends at Latitude festival 2015

But for many women and girls living in poverty, their life is like that all the time – no sanitary pads, no proper toilets, no clean water. Add to that the many cultural taboos about periods, and having your period can be an extremely traumatic experience. And it happens every month.

That’s why ActionAid is taking over an entire toilet block and surrounding area at Latitude this week – to highlight the challenges women and girls across the world face because of their periods. We're super excited about it, and we hope you will be too.

Is there really a need to break period taboos at Latitude? 

Yes, absolutely! Despite menstruation being a natural process that is part of almost every girl's and woman’s life, it is still treated as a taboo in countless cultures and societies across the world. From the Instagram period photo debacle in the UK to damaging myths further afield.

17-year-old Vast, from Malawi, got her period when she was 15. She says, "I was told not to cook with salt because if I do my dad will have stomach pains, and people's teeth will fall out.”

Vast Chiradzulu District in Malawi World Menstrual Hygiene Day

Myths like these, along with a lack of access to toilets and sanitary products, mean that when it's their 'time of the month' girls can’t go to school. In Africa, one in ten girls misses school when they have their period. This has a huge knock-on effect on girls’ education and often leads to them dropping out.

ActionAid works with communities to improve access to toilets, sanitary products and provide safe spaces where girls can learn about periods and sex.

These pads make a huge difference. I'm really happy now.

Thanks to an ActionAid supported project in her community, Vast can now get sanitary pads easily and go to school all the time.

Sylvia, aged 15, with her friends (L-R) Esnart  and Vast  . World Menstrual Hygiene Day

Beforehand, Vast used to miss out on three days of classes every month, but now that's changed. She says: “These pads make a huge difference – I am able to stand in class without being conscious of what is behind me and can even play netball. I’m really happy and it helps a lot.”

With a full education under her belt, Vast can learn the skills she needs to break out of poverty and change her life for good. So clearly - breaking period taboos and keeping girls in school is good for them, and everyone else too.

What's ActionAid doing at Latitude?

We'll be busting period taboos at Latitude from Thursday to Sunday and we've got lots in store!  At 5pm every day we'll be joined by some of the great comedians and performers who support our work, including Mark Watson, Shazia Mirza, and Robin Ince.

We've got interactive workshops every afternoon where you can get a taste of the rich cultures from some of the countries where we work. Try out dance and drumming from Africa, Asia and Latin America and listen to the beautiful sound of Zimbawean-British musician, Anna Mudeka.

And for the early risers, in the mornings you can learn how to make a Mwezi cloth sanitary towel, create jewellery using African beads and get your festival henna tattoo.

ActionAid location at Latitude festival 2016

We'll also be encouraging festival goers to write a message of support on our Period Wall for the millions of girls around the world missing out on school when they get their period - inspired by the students in Pakistan who covered their university walls with sanitary towels in protest over period taboos.

And last but not least, our ‘surf the crimson wave’ simulator (get it?)! We challenge you to stay on as long as possible! There'll be a leader board to encourage a bit of healthy competition, and all contestants will be in with a chance of winning two free tickets to Latitude 2017!

So if you're coming to Latitude this year, make sure you swing by our tent and get involved. And if not, then we'll be sharing all our activities on Facebook and Twitter too, so you can still help by sharing what we're up to and spreading the word about the importance of busting period taboos to keep girls in school.Follow us on Twitter

Photos: Dan Medhirst, Carys Lavin, Samantha Reinders/ActionAid