A few weeks ago, the oldest person in Scotland unfortunately passed away. She spent the latter years of her life living in my hometown, and I was lucky enough to have met her on a couple of occasions. Born in 1910, she saw the world change drastically in her lifetime: the Titanic crashed when she was two, the First World War started when she was four, the Russian Revolution took place when she was 7, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany when she was twenty-three, the end of the British rule and subsequent partition of India took place when she was thirty-seven, Neil Armstrong stepped foot onto the moon when she was fifty-nine, in the year of her ninetieth birthday we entered a new millennium, and when she was one-hundred and four Britain had its first legal gay marriage. Now, as I reach the start of my twentieth journey around the sun, I cannot help but ponder what changes I have been a part of on our little planet. I hope that, should I reach 109, I may look back and marvel at all that I have seen and movements I have helped to shape, but even in the short 20 years that I have been here thus far, I already have a number of things that are worth reflecting on.
Whilst planning this article, the #MeToo movement and subsequent Time’s Up Campaign which gained so much media attention two years ago came to my mind first. Looking back over the last twenty years, it has been the most important movement in my lifetime, as well as being one that means a great deal to me. I needn’t offer too extensive a history lesson since it has become so widely recognised; many of us will be aware of how a tweet posted in 2017 by actress Alyssa Milano is made the phrase so popular. Those two words resonated with many hundreds of thousands of people and highlighted the need to address issues such as sexual harassment and abuse. The movement saw people from all walks of life come together to share their experiences; big celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and ordinary people alike felt able to share their stories and talk about how we might do better. Since the tweet was posted two years ago, there has been an evident shift in attitudes in terms of the way we talk about sexual harassment and consent. While there is still ground to be covered, the conversations that have arose as a result of the movement have helped to bring about real change globally.
Despite living in the UK, the #NeverAgain movement and the March For Our Lives which followed had a profound impact on me. As a student, it illustrated the potential young people have to bring about change. Though big names like George and Amal Clooney played a part in the fundraising efforts, the march itself was initiated by high school student Cameron Kasky, a survivor of the 2017 Parkland Shooting in Florida. The way in which an initiative that started with twenty pupils from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School grew to a march attended by millions across the world is indicative of the power the youth possesses. We live in an age where Millennials and those part of ‘Generation Z’ are subject to a great deal of criticism, but it is movements such as these that show the capabilities of young people in bringing about change.
As a student living in Edinburgh, I was able to witness the Students Strike against Climate Change which took place in March of this year. The movement against climate change has in recent years become more popular than ever; a subset of the greater ‘environment movement’, it is all too regularly in the media and a topic of debate. Over the last year, the movement has become more widely discussed following Swedish activist Greta Thunberg’s initiation of the school strike for climate in November 2018. At just 16, she began her activism with classmates by protesting outside of the Swedish Parliament buildings in Stockholm. The widespread news coverage from her initial and subsequent protests has brought the discussion of climate change into the classroom but more importantly into politics too. Over the last few weeks here in Scotland a bill was drafted before the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change which proposed to cut carbon emissions by 90% by 2050 and set a ‘net-zero target’. The movement around climate change is perhaps the most current movement on this list, and similarly to that of the #NeverAgain movement, it again illustrates the power for change held by young people.
All these movements have offered me a sense of empowerment. In being able to participate, I feel as though I am part of a greater change in our society. The shifts in respective attitudes that have emerged as a result of each movement that has taken place over the last two decades suggest to me that we are headed, albeit at times slowly, in the right direction. Regardless of background or experiences, social movements have the capacity to bring people together in search of something better.
*Illustration by Isi Williams*
When Vaughn wrote regeneration, he discussed a spiritual enlightenment mainly to do with discovering faith. While to me this idea is true, I believe regeneration also is about the discovery that you can be enlightened alone: finding happiness from love of the self. You can find the original poem here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/50440/regeneration-56d22d8fa412b
Spring slowly starts to surface,
While within the sharp cold persists.
As he moves further away the sound of falling tears grows stronger
They make music; a song of pain, suffering, beauty.
I wallow in the water, watching him
Dance through my flood. The
Splashes from his now dirty feet muddying
Waters we worked to keep so clean.
Winter’s surly winds lift up the thousands of
Shattered shards of my frosted heart;
Like smoke they feed my eyes, my lungs, my head
Leaving me weary and heavy.
He storms on, only the clouds from rough footsteps remaining.
I lie in the puddles he left behind giving time for my senses to greet
One another; hushed cries intertwined with damp hair stained by
Hot tears. My mind restless, my body aching for his touch.
Such sweetness came from that poison;
His fingers, his breath, his lips
Flames alighting my skin till I lay
All I feel is the cold left behind.
With eyes firmly closed I don’t see the bed of flowers beginning to
Bloom. A new spring tentatively approaches, bringing with it
New warmth. Real warmth. My ship lost in the ocean need not
Struggle to stay afloat for much longer as land is drawing closer.
Hearing a new voice I awaken.
Her words are soft, familiar, telling me of a regeneration
And of a returning of life to my limp soul.
Her cooing like a cloud eclipsing my mind drawing me
Upwards. Words of promise, of restoration, and of hope.
“While the sharp cold within persists,
Spring will slowly start to surface once again”.
*Illustration by Petra Wonham*
We are living in a society which is becoming more and more environmentally aware. Whether it be current trends like sustainable, trash-free living or the emergence of DIY cosmetics, we are discovering new small ways that we as individuals can help to make things that little bit better for the environment. For the avid green thumbed folk out there however, it can feel disappointing sometimes that we can’t make a difference on a grander scale. While eradicating plastic from my weekly shop feels great, I often worry about how big a change I really am making. Thus brings me to this list: 6 big AND small ways you can be an advocate for environment as a student in Edinburgh.
1. Sign up to the Social Responsibility and Sustainability Newsletter put out by Edinburgh University. You will get updates on what is being done to help the environment at Uni and you’ll be the first to hear about upcoming events. Whether it be by going to the Potterrow Market (which next will be held on November 21st!) or by joining the GESA Reading Group to discuss current issues like Fracking, the newsletter is a great way to kickstart your sustainability and environmental awareness adventure.
2. Look into joining a local activist group. A particularly good one in Edinburgh is the ‘Edinburgh Sustainability Meetup’. With over 1000 members, they organise a whole variety of different events and workshops where you can learn more about being environmentally aware in Edinburgh. While they have more casual things like upcycling groups and community gardening, they have also established the Permaculture Community Classroom, which is a group that meets up every two weeks at the Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council. What is great about these groups is you can be as hard-core as you please. If you prefer to live sustainably in a more quiet way, you can. If you want to be active in the debate, you can do that too.
3. Get involved with the Edinburgh branch of the Scottish Green Party. Anyone can join, and they offer various things which you can get stuck into. You can choose to attend meetings, hand out leaflets, work with the fundraising and communications team, and support local events. The application process is quick and easy, and the Edinburgh branch meet once a month on Tuesdays, with committee meetings held once a month on Thursdays. If politics is your thing, it is a great way to not only get involved, but to meet with other people passionate about the same things as you.
4. Consider becoming a member of a group like GreenPeace UK. Whether you’re just interested in getting more information about climate change and what people are doing about it in your local area, or you want to donate to regional projects and join the campaign effort, groups such as these are very accessible to everyone. They have pages on platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, so you really haven’t the excuse not to check out what they’re up to.
5. As many of us students know, there are clusters of treasure trove charity shops dotted all around Edinburgh. While most people might pop in for a vintage jacket or an old book, it is well worth looking into taking up a voluntary position. Oxfam notedly published their Weather Report in 1983, and since then have been recognised as being pioneers within raising awareness around climate change. Though you may not be the humanitarian providing care packages to some of the world’s most desperate countries, in donating your time you are helping to make a difference.
6. Make an application for the University’s Sustainable Campus Fund. The University of Edinburgh announced in 2016 that by 2020 they aim to reach a state of sustainability whereby the University will have a zero carbon emission level. As a part of this, they have the ‘Sustainable Project’ in which students and staff alike can propose an idea they have for reducing carbon emissions. The project is supported by the uni before being submitted to the Utilities Working Group where it will be put into practice. Applications can be made to https://www.ed.ac.uk/about/sustainability/students/go-zero-carbon-by-2040/sustainable-campus-fund
So many of us have experienced it: you could be in class, at work, out with friends, on a date, alone. That panicked rush to the nearest bathroom and the sensation of your stomach dropping to the floor when you see that you have left your emergency supply behind. For some of us it’s a frustrating blip in the day, but a quick trip to a shop and crisis is averted. However, it can mark the beginning of up to a week of mortification, crippling anxiety, and isolation - Period Poverty is a thing, and it’s about time we started talking about it.
‘Period Poverty’ as it has been popularised is essentially the state people find themselves in when they are unable to afford the products they need while menstruating. Bloody Good Period, a British charity who donate sanitary supplies to food banks and drop in centres around the UK, estimate that over a lifetime, the average woman will fork out £4800 on period supplies. Given we can have well above 400 periods over the course of our lives, whether it’s being spent on pads or paracetamol, up to £15 is coming out of our pockets each month for something we have zero control over. In the grand scheme of things £15 may appear insignificant, but when you’re trying to juggle monthly expenses, every pound adds up.
This time last year, Plan International carried out a survey of 1000 girls in the UK aged between 14 and 21 and found that 1 in 10 girls had to forgo buying sanitary products because they couldn’t afford it, and of those who could, 1 in 5 had to resort to using a less suitable product due to costs. It is important that people understand the implications of not having what you need when you’re menstruating; it’s a great deal more than just the embarrassment of someone catching a glimpse of bloodstained jeans. Periods are so much more than a bit of blood each month and going without the supplies you need has profound impact on hygiene, health, education, and personal wellbeing. All too many people with periods are having to skip class, get time off work, and suffer without painkillers as a consequence. Slowly though, society is beginning to recognise the physical, emotional, and financial toll of menstruation and steps are being taken to eliminate the stigma and expense.
Back in August, the Scottish government announced that they would be starting up a scheme worth over £5 million in aid of period poverty, particularly for those at school and further education who are recognised as being one of the most highly affected groups. Our own university, in fact, at the beginning of this year started up collection points around the various campuses where free products can be taken for anyone who needs them. Taking action like this is hugely important in reducing the way in which period poverty has an effect on us as students, alleviating the stress of having to cut money for food back in order to pay for sanitary supplies. On a more national level, an amendment on the ‘tampon tax’ was proposed by Labour MP Paula Sherriff and accepted by parliament in 2016, but progress has been relatively slow. While there might have been money earned by the ‘tampon tax’ set aside last year to donate to women’s charities, there is still this sense of luxury which surrounds the ability to access sanitary supplies easily. As perfectly put by Laura Coryton, campaigner and founder of organisation Stop Taxing Periods, ‘Periods are no luxury. You can ‘opt-in’ to extravagance. You cannot choose to menstruate.’ There has been a great deal of emphasis upon changing prices and lifting taxes and while I agree that such things are incredibly important, solving the problem must also involve education and awareness.
Frankly, as with most issues, conversation brings about change. Once we recognise a problem does indeed exist, we can begin to move forwards in solving it. Slowly but surely, the taboo and stigma surrounding periods is being broken down. It is ludicrous that something so biologically natural is surrounded by so much shame. Seeing people in the media talking about periods in the public eye is hugely beneficial to solving the issues. Young people are looking to Danielle Rowley, the Scottish Labour MP for my local constituency, Jennifer Lawrence, award-winning American actress, Colleen Ballinger, internet and YouTube star better known for her alter-ego Miranda Sings, and finally model Gigi Hadid - all of whom have spoken openly about their periods. Teaching the new generation that they need not be silenced about their periods is integral in bringing about change on a grander scale.
Provision of free sanitary products in schools, universities and libraries is brilliant as a first major step forwards in beating period poverty, and it is clear the rest of the world need follow Scotland’s example. Further, the ongoing debate around abolishing the tax put onto sanitary supplies will be another huge step forward. While period poverty may be a bloody disgrace, spreading awareness and working together to create change is paramount to ensuring that all people with periods can access the products they need.*Illustration by Bee Anderson (@beeillustrates)*