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Nov 182019

An innovative new education programme targeted at supporting young women with a better knowledge, improved awareness, and a willingness to explore sustainable product choices for their period was recently piloted at Kuranui College.

Joanna Hehir and Lisa Birrell created Divine River, a not-for-profit organisation, focused on educational programmes and student-led workshops that provide the knowledge required to make informed choices, whilst creating an awareness of the sustainable options that are available to young women.

Joanna Hehir, founder of reusable period product company Danu Natural, had developed sustainable period products based on a need she had seen through her own daughter and friends. Joanna got in touch with Kuranui’s Principal, Simon Fuller, to see if there was anything she could do about helping the girls feel more comfortable in school, which she hoped would encourage them to use reusable pads.

Teaming up with Lisa Birrell, they worked with the school to develop and facilitate a 10-week Period Project pilot programme, developed through a student-led steering group made up of eight girls, including workshops on the body, nutrition, and health and well-being.

Divine River Team

The Divine River Team

There were also talks from guest speakers such as Olie Body from the WA Collective and Megan Savage from Fine Tune, and experts who gave their time included Bex Henderson, a fertility expert from Seed Fertility who presented the Menstruation workshop, and Emilie Fleur-Neubauer, a scientist from The Wairarapa Earth School who presented the Sustainability & Environmental impact workshops, and Joanna herself who presented the Fabric & Ethics workshop.

The students were given an opportunity to test out the sustainable products, to find out whether they were fit for purpose, comfortable and if they felt confident wearing them at school.

“It was important to make the school environment accepting and supportive of the students’ choices. One of our key aims for the students was to normalise discussions on the topic across all genders,” explained Hehir.

Kuranui Year 9 student and steering group member, Nilah Savage, has become much more empowered to talk about her period following the success of the programme. “I thought I knew quite a bit when I started the programme, but once we had done the first workshop I realised I really didn’t know anything,” Savage said.

“Health in Year 7 and 8 wasn’t that good. It was all about relationships and we did nothing on our periods. Everything I learnt was from my mum, but I still didn’t know about how much we bled and what was actually happening inside my body.

“The biggest learning point for me was getting the confidence to talk about it, make it normal for me and the people I surround myself with, so now I can talk to all my guy friends about it and be completely fine with it. I have the confidence in saying I have my period.”

When the group opened up a sustainability workshop to the wider school community, they were delighted to see that 20% of their audience was male. They also held a red mufti day to purchase reusable products for students who may not be able to afford them, which helped to break down the barriers around talking about blood.

“In the next five years we would like to see every girl starting her period choosing the sustainable option, by having a reusable product first on her mind and in her school bag,” added Hehir.

On average a woman will have 480 periods during her lifetime, this contributes to more than 90 tonnes of disposable feminine hygiene products that are added to landfills every year in New Zealand alone, taking up to 450 years to decompose.

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