For the past ten years, the Yorkits project of Rotary York Ainsty has been making washable, reusable period kits for girls around the world to lessen the period poverty burden.
The group has made an average of 300 kits each year (approximately 3,000 in total) since the project began. Kits have gone to twenty-five countries, refugee camps and women’s refuges.
In March 2023, the group ran its 8th International Women’s Week workshop in York Minster - resulting in 70 finished kits and many more partially completed. Since January, they have already sent nearly 250 kits.
Tackling period poverty one kit at a time
Every month, 1.8 billion people across the world menstruate. However, it’s estimated that at least 500 million women and girls globally lack access to the facilities they need to manage their periods Having access to period products is also a major barrier for women and girls worldwide.
For many girls around the world, getting their period is more than an inconvenience. It means putting their lives on hold as stigma, embarrassment and lack of appropriate toilets and facilities can exclude them from daily activities. Many women and girls also grow up with limited information on how to manage their periods as well as lack of access to period products. Period poverty doesn’t just affect women in girls in developing countries. In 2021, 50% of girls in the UK said they couldn’t afford period products at some point
Wanting to lessen the burden for girls and women, Yorkits project founder, Issy Sanderson, decided to act. What started out as a Day for Girls project evolved to a weekly meetup where hundreds of reusable period kits are made and distributed around the world each year.
Each kit costs about £10 to make and includes: eight pads; two pad pockets; a waterproof bag for carrying soiled items; two pairs of pants; a flannel; and a resealable polythene bag to use as a makeshift washing machine in areas with poor access to water; instructions with diagrams; and a postcard with kind messages from Yorkits. The contents are all packed into a discreet fabric drawstring bag and sent to where they are needed.
A kit can last a girl three years, which equates to 200 days of education she does not have to miss because of menstruation. So far, kits have been sent to five countries in Asia, 17 countries in Africa, three counties in Central and South America, three refugee camps and two women’s refuge homes in England.
Sharing knowledge and gaining momentum locally and internationally
Yorkits has partnered with other Rotary clubs, groups and charities to identify need and distribute the kits. Recently, St. Peter’s School students in York packed and distributed the kits on a trip to a remote village in Vietnam. An aid worker in Tanzania that attended the workshop at York Minster is now teaching a group of young mothers in the city of Moshi to make the kits for girls in local schools.
Locally, members of the Yorkits team give a variety of talks, presentations and workshops to students at schools, crafting groups and other Rotary and Inner Wheel clubs. They have also taken part in an International Women’s week Hygiene Bank discussion panel on period poverty and given a hands-on workshop at a local eco conference in York.
The group also helps with seed-funding for self-help community projects. Yorkits are designed to make it easier for people, particularly in developing countries, to make the kits themselves. With some financial help to start the kit making process, women around the world are then able to source materials and sew the kits by hand or with a simple sewing machine.
Nearly 200 volunteers gathered at York Minster in March 2023 for Yorkits annual International Women’s Week workshop.
The publicity from previous International Women’s Weeks evens at York Minster has raised the profile of Yorkits and their work. At the 2023 event, coverage from BBC Radio York and BBC Look North led to many enquiries from people wishing to help make kits or asking for the group to give workshops and talks.
Over the years, volunteering numbers have risen, leading to a change in the frequency of workshops and change in location. The group used to hold meetups at founder Issy Sanderson’s house. They now meet weekly in a community room at a large Tesco—a space which can accommodate all the regular weekly volunteers and visitors.
After ten years leading the group, Issy has stepped down from the coordinator role. With so many women and girls affected by period poverty, Yorkits will continue their work in making quality period products available to women and girls for as long as there is need and support.
How to get involved
Help with kit making – Anyone interested in volunteering or learning about the kit making process can visit the group on Wednesday mornings at the community room at Tesco Extra at Askham Bar, York. People can see the kit making process and help sew and assemble the kits.
Set up your own version – The Yorkits team is happy to help people set up their own version and can run workshops to teach others the process. The team recommends making a kit first to see if it’s the right fit for you.
Collect and distribute kits – People with contacts in communities that may need period kits are encouraged to get in touch, especially if they are going to visit and can take kits with them. Information and support can be supplied to help their contacts with the kit making set up.
Find out more about Yorkits and Rotary York Ainsty
Information provided by Janice Lawson, Yorkits coordinator for Rotary York Ainsty, and edited by Rebecca A Mendoza. Rebecca is a freelance writer and member of York Rotary. You can learn more about her work at www.rebeccaamendoza.com