Highlights from busting period taboos at Latitude | ActionAid UK

"Hi, have you got two minutes to talk about periods?" Not the easiest of questions to ask complete strangers, but this is what team ActionAid were doing at Latitude Festival last week. Whether you were there or not, if you care about breaking period taboos we thought you'd enjoy these photo highlights.

ActionAid volunteers giving out Bodyform sanitary pads at Latitude Festival 2016
ActionAid volunteers giving out Bodyform sanitary pads at Latitude Festival 2016

Toilet takeover

Festivals are a great time to get people appreciating good sanitation, which is of course vital when you're on your period, so we did a toilet takeover. As the public queued in the hot sun to go to ‘The ActionAid Loos', they could read our toilet pillars displaying stories of girls affected by period taboos and lack of sanitary pads, and what ActionAid is doing to help.

The ActionAid loos at Latitude 2016

At ActionAid we recognise that sanitary towels are not trivial, nice-to-have items - they are essential tools in the fight against poverty and help keep girls in school. That's why our small interventions – providing sanitary pads, a safe place to wash, and separate toilets – are making sure girls can stay in education.

ActionAid toilet pillars at Latitude festival 2016

Passers-by could also read our vintage period posters, highlighting the period myths that women and girls still face today - from girls who are told cooking with salt on their period will make their teeth fall out, to women who still don’t talk about taking leave for period pains. ActionAid's girls clubs are breaking down taboos in countries like Rwanda and Malawi by providing accurate information about periods to school children and a safe space to discuss their concerns.

Being right next to the huge BBC 6 Music stage, our toilets were always busy, meaning we reached thousands of people with our message about why #menstruationmatters for women and girls living in poverty.

Busting period taboos

As festival-goers emerged from the portaloos our volunteers got chatting to them and asked if they'd like to help us break period taboos.

Latitude volunteer talking to festival goers as they leave the ActionAid loos

Inspired by the period taboo protest by students in Pakistan, we set up our very own 'Break the taboo' period wall. We had a constant flow of people of all ages writing taboo-busting messages - it was so popular we had to create more space every few hours!

From the simple messages like ‘it’s natural’ to powerful reminders that without periods none of us would be alive, such as ‘periods = babies = life’, our wall sent a strong message – periods are not something to be ashamed of.

Surfing the crimson wave

It's safe to say that our ‘surf the crimson wave’ surf simulator went down a treat, with children and parents alike determined to stay on as long as possible.

Boys surfing the crimson wave at the ActionAid tent at Latitude 2016

Our leader board encouraged some healthy competition. Even our CEO, Girish, got stuck in. He wasn't in the leader race, but he was pretty chuffed just to make it to two digits, with a time of 14 seconds.

ActionAid CEO, Girish Menon, surfing the crimson wave at Latitude 2016

Getting the painters in

Continuing the period euphemism theme, we ‘got the painters in’ to do some beautiful love heart face painting and spread the period love. Our love hearts were free, but lots of people donated generously.

Love heart face painting at the ActionAid tent, Latitude Festival 2016

We had plenty of mums and daughters coming to have a chat and find out what they can do to help. But by no means was it just the girls: Dads, brothers, sons, and boyfriends were just as keen, and of course their support is more important than ever.

On the funny side

Our celeb guests and comedians helped draw big crowds round the ActionAid tent. Big thanks goes to comedians Mark Watson (and son!) , Robin Ince,  Suzi RuffellShazia Mirza, and Joe Lycett for their highly entertaining performances. 

Robin Ince performing outside the ActionAid tent at Latitude 2016

And to the lovely Molly NaylorHelen Mort and Yomi Sode who recited some beautiful, powerful and thought-provoking poetry for us.

African themed workshops

We had a host of workshops, including African bead making, Henna tattoos, and several different drumming and dance classes.

African drumming workshop with ActionAid at Latitude Festival 2016

And we even had a 'make your own sanitary pad' workshop, thanks to Dr. Susie Leaf, who trains women in Kenya how to make their own reusable sanitary pads.

Our amazing volunteers

We couldn't have done it without our volunteers, who, despite being given a rather tricky topic, rose to the challenge with unwavering enthusiasm, energy and commitment. Their taboo-busting skills are second to none! So we want to say a huge thank you.

Down to all their hard work, thousands of festival goers learned about how girls are held back by their periods in developing countries, plus we raised an incredible £2,000 to help keep girls in school. Hoorah!

ActionAid volunteers at Latitude Festival 2016

Thanks also to Festival Republic for hosting us, and to all you fabulous festival goers who got involved. And for anyone who missed out - we can't recommend Latitude enough. See you next year?

Meanwhile, if you'd like to contribute to our vital work busting period taboos and helping keep girls in school, then please make a donation.

Donate to ActionAid's work

Photos: Aron Klein