Champions of Change club narrows in on period poverty

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Oh, if only the provincial government would fund more sexual health education programs for students. Raiha Shareef

Reducing period stigma one product dispenser at a time

Ending period poverty was something that Raiha Shareef was passionate about going into her first year of university.  Now, with the formation of her own club, Champions of Change, they are filling period product dispensers all around the University of Regina Campus.  

  This Psychology student formed the club in 2019 with a few friends who were also passionate about eliminating systemic gender inequality around campus. Since then, their numbers have grown to a six-executive team with over 60 members at large – and room for more – around campus.  

  Shareef, President of the club, took the opportunity to chat with me about what it was like gathering numbers during the pandemic, ending period stigma, mentoring students, and ongoing issues they hope to work towards.  

What would you consider some of the key values of the Champions of Change club? 

Some of the key values are definitely equality, inclusivity, and collaboration. We are a club that really, really underscores on collaboration and inclusivity. We truly believe in collaboration over competition. We collaborate with organizations from all over Regina, with students with every amount of experience. We collaborate with organizations that are also like minded like RaiseHER Community or YWCA. We create collaborative projects together, because we all have the same goal in mind, which is to create gender equality within our community.  

Do you have a blueprint to achieving these goals with your partners?   

We actually have an intergeneration mentorship program with them. We get high school students paired with university students, and then the university students teach them all about the transition from high school to university. Then both the high school and university students get paired with a leader in the career field. For example, if you’re interested in journalism, you get paired with a journalist in CBC – that’s a program we offered two years ago. It’s a great way to get a hands-on experience in a field that you’re interested in. We also are big supporters of the community fridges, specifically the Cathedral Community Fridge. We donate menstrual products regularly because we believe that period products should be easily accessible. We donated over 1,000 period products last year and we’ve partnered with local businesses and local restaurants to donate food to the Cathedral Community Fridge as well.  

How does the Champions of Change help get to a place where period poverty doesn’t exist?  

Something that we’re really big on is menstrual equity and ending period poverty. We believe that people should talk about menstruation and our health and our bodies in a normalized way and in a comfortable way. When we first started off the club, we started off with a campaign where we filmed a video of a bunch of students talking about period poverty and the period stigma. After, we led a campaign to talk about period equity, which led us to secure a conversation with the custodial services with the University of Regina administration. After about six months of advocacy and working together with the custodial services, we actually got 12 dispensers of free pads and tampons, which is a direct way of making free period products accessible to students. 

Where else has the journey taken you?  

Since then, we haven’t stopped the conversation. We’ve led conversation circles for refugees and immigrants with the Regina Open Door Society for the past two years where we talked about menstruation. We talked about what are pads or tampons in a very culturally-safe environment for newcomers to Regina, and we also toured around elementary schools and talked about menstruation and period stigma with middle school students. It was really cool just to break down the period stigma at a younger age and get them talking about the facts of menstruation.  

What was it like going into these school and working with these people?  

It was so good, because this is something that we’ve always wanted to do. We strive to create spaces where we can comfortably talk about menstruation. Obviously, I was a little scared at first, because they’re little kids. It’s about menstruation, which is normally something that is shamed on, so I didn’t have any expectations for the students. But to our surprise, they were so good. They were asking so many questions, especially the boys in the class and non-menstruators. They were all so mature about it. I think that really just underscores the fact that period stigma is learned, it’s not something inherent in us all.  

As a group that started out just before the pandemic hit, how did this affect your student interest level? 

I think our numbers were still pretty strong because we adapted to the virtual environment pretty quickly. For example, instead of doing in-person events or sessions or meetings, what we did was we hosted an Instagram Live every two weeks where we invited guests.  We had community leaders in Regina, and we also had invited community leaders from abroad to talk about anything that they wanted to talk about. We [open up] conversations with them, they share their insights, they share their advocacy experience, why they do what they do, and it, that got a lot of engagement. What we’ve also noticed was that there were members who were scared of doing in-person events, like they were a little too shy to advocate in person. So, there were people that joined in the virtual realm that said “I feel more comfortable in this space” which is really cool to see. I didn’t even realize that there were people who wanted to do more virtual experiences, rather than in person. So, we were able to connect with a different target audience, in a way. 

What’s next for the club?  

I think it’s just the same goal that we’ve always had, which is gender equity and inclusivity with the focus on menstrual equity. We want to get more dispensers on campus throughout Regina and Saskatchewan. We’re working on a campaign to get free products available outside of campus too.  

This interview was edited for length and clarity.  

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