Have you heard about P.A.D.S, a Leeds University campaign to raise both awareness and try to tackle issues faced by vulnerable women around Leeds? We were lucky enough to catch up with them this week and find out a bit more about what they do.
Can you tell us a bit about P.A.D.S? What it is you do?
P.A.D.S stands for power, action, dignity and support. We are campaign looking to raise awareness to students on the issues local, vulnerable women face. The issues we will mainly be focusing on are sex work and period poverty. We want to inform students on the stigma surrounding sex work and the violence many women face in this profession, as well as the barriers many women and girls face in the community when they cannot afford female sanitation products. The charities we are supporting also work on matters such as human trafficking, domestic violence and barriers BMAE women in the area are affronted with when trying to access health services. We are financially fundraising for our charities as well as materially, trying to collect donations of female sanitation products, women’s toiletries and clothing. We are supporting three charities: Basis Yorkshire, Leeds Women’s Aid and Women’s Health Matters. All these charities do wonderful work in the Leeds communities and you can find out more about their different projects on their websites or P.A.D.S Facebook page. (https://www.facebook.com/POWERACTIONDIGNITYSUPPORT/?fref=ts)
Why and when did you decide to set up?
I was first exposed to the issues of period poverty and stigmatized sex work when working with the charity Snehalaya in the Ahmednagar district of India. I visited the charity twice last year, who work with vulnerable women and children in the area. The charity makes their own sanitary pads for women who are unable to buy their own and told me about local girls missing out on school because of this issue. The charity also has an office near the red light district of the town that work with both men and women sex workers in the area. They provide health services and support for these sex workers. Whilst this experience raised my awareness, I was naïve enough to think that these issues remained in India and would not affect women and girls at home. In the summer, I then attended the National RAG conference, where I met a group of students for Manchester RAG. They had run a successful campaign called ‘Time of the Month’ to collect sanitation products for homeless women in Manchester. Their campaign raised a number of questions for me: what do homeless women do when their on their period? How do they afford sanitation products, especially with the VAT tax on tampons making them more expensive? I was really inspired by their campaign and started to contact women’s charities in Leeds to start up a similar campaign. After meeting the charities, I realized that there are so many other issues women’s face in the area and so expanded the project to try and focus on as many of these problems as we could and help as many women as possible.
What have you done so far?
Despite only advertising the campaign in the last month, I have been working with two other students on the campaign since September. This started with researching local charities and getting in contact with them. We then met with the charities to discuss their work and see where we could help. We then went on to research events and plan how we can fundraise and set up our campaign advertisement, using a local illustrator to make powerful artwork that encompassed the ideas of our campaign. Since advertising the campaign, we collaborated with Vertical Fitness society to run a vertical fitness class. We fundraised 36 pounds and 9 boxes of tampons and pads. We currently have a collection point at Pump and Grind, encouraging students to do a spring clean before the Easter holidays and donating any spare clothes or toiletries.
How has your relationship been with the charities you’re involved with? Did they welcome your help and support?
The charities were really great. After the initial emails we went to personally visit our charities and discussed their work and how we could help. They advised us on what they needed most, so some of our charities needed material donations more than financial donations. The charities were really enthusiastic about getting the word out to students and are all happy to come in and do a talk in the university for any students interested in finding out more and how they can personally get involved.
What do you think in general about students getting involved with local issues?
I really think students should get involved locally where they can. Students are often just involved in their own campus life and unaware of all the issues going on in the community they live in. I also think it is a great personal experience for students to volunteer locally. Leeds is a big city and there are so many great charities and initiatives to get involved in!
What plans do you have for the future with PADS? Any upcoming events?
We have quite a few future events coming up after Easter. Our main event is an arts evening at Belgrave Music Hall on Friday 28th April. We are collaborating with Slut Drop, who will be djing for the event, as well as Girl Gang Leeds who will be providing stalls for the event. There will also be stalls from our charities and we will have our very own P.A.D.S stall where we will be selling t-shirts with our illustrations on. We will also be collecting any donations at the event as well. We also have some exciting academics and charity workers coming into university to do some talks in the union, including the ceo of National Ugly Mugs who do great work protecting sex workers from potential violent situations. The scariest but exciting event I have planned is a free bleed. I am planning on spending a normal university day without any sanitation products, but of course will be being as hygienic as possible using puppy pads when I sit down! I am aware that this event may cause some controversy, but I feel the experience directly tackles some of the taboos around periods and although I will be uncomfortable, I will be directly experiencing what the women we are trying to support go through. As well as directly raising awareness on period poverty, the free bleed will be sponsored to fundraise for our charities!
How can people get involved and help both short term and long term?
We are welcome to anyone who wants to help us or has any ideas for fundraising, just message our Facebook page. We are also welcoming any brave women who fancy trying out the free bleed! The main way to obviously to get involved though is by attending our events or dropping donations at our collection points.