Anya Cook sits on University and College Union’s National Executive and Further Education Committee and she is Branch Secretary at Newcastle College where she is employed as a Mentor.
In the decade I have been a UCU trade union rep at Newcastle College we haven’t had a women’s officer on the branch. In September we appointed our warm and lovely colleague, Niki, a childcare lecturer as women’s rep. Immediately she started talking about Period Poverty and the need for sanitary protection which colleagues have told us they are buying themselves, and providing for their students.
At the same time I attended a briefing for Mentors on increasing student attendance this academic year and ‘having your period’ was the first reason cited.
A week later I was off to Labour Party Conference in Liverpool with my son, both delegates for Newcastle North constituency. If we hadn’t left the house at 5am, if we had been booked on the same train, if we had been able to board our connections at Manchester which were overloaded with football supporters, if we’d used a map rather than rely on sat nav to walk to where we needed to be … and so it was I arrived at Women’s Conference, late, tired and hungry.
First stop the bathroom – and like an oasis in the desert, I saw a hazy mirage of chocolate mini rolls in the wicker basket next to the dried flower arrangement under the vanity-lighted mirror – the disappointment when I realised they were individually and very prettily-wrapped tampons ….
To a backdrop of debate on ‘Women And The Economy’ my friends were laughing at my sleep-and-lunch-deprived foolishness – and then eureka! I messaged Niki from the conference hall – and we decided what we needed to do and how we might, through our UCU branch, make a start on challenging Period Poverty at Newcastle College … it was then a test of patience to wait to return to work to meet with the rest of our branch to get their agreement and involve them.
Earlier this month I was invited, as a Labour Party member, to talk to a neighbouring Labour constituency meeting about our branch’s campaign on challenging Period Poverty:
You can watch my presentation here:
(First published on http://transforminglives.web.ucu.org.uk )