At the end of March, we (Mikaela McKinley, Orlaith Duffy and I) began a campaign for free sanitary product provision at Celtic Park. We have publicised it massively and have answered all the questions thrown our way. Now, we can say the campaign has been a success – Celtic will provide sanitary products free of charge by the start of the 18/19 season. It has been a relatively short-lived campaign, but I’d like to give you an insight into the journey from start to finish.
I’ve been aware of all the debate and discussion surrounding period poverty over the last year or so. There is work going through the Scottish Parliament at present, headed up by Monica Lennon MSP, to implement free sanitary product provision – primarily in schools, universities and college. With this in mind, the idea came to me whilst using the toilets at the football earlier this year. Why couldn’t we look to implement this in Celtic Park? Local councils, some schools and universities have introduced free sanitary product provision so that no women or girls miss out on education – but social inclusion is just as important. Celtic have an inclusive and charitable reputation which can be traced right back to our founding principles. If any club was to set the precedent of identifying and meeting female needs in their stadium, it had to be Celtic.
The idea stuck in my mind for a wee while, but I didn’t know how to even begin putting it into action, so I kinda put it aside. Mid-March this year we seen the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (yass!) and what a result it was. For me, it was one of the first instances where I had seen how working-class people organising can be victorious. This left me feeling really politically energised. Having gone through to watch the final debate of the Repeal Bill, I discussed my idea about Celtic providing sanitary products for free with Mikaela and Orlaith. We were all in, we were going to go for it.
A week or so later, we started a petition on Change.org. We did this to get the feelers out, and see how much support an initiative like this would have. We would need some support behind us in any future meetings with Celtic, to show that we had backing and it was not just us three that wanted this. On the same day, we emailed Celtic to share our ideas about free sanitary product provision, to advise that we had started the petition and to request a meeting. Our point of contact was on annual leave for a week at this time, so it was a wee while before we got the wheels turning.
The petition took off quite quickly. I have to say, I think the majority of the signatures were Orlaith’s doing – she is a popular and persuasive lady! The week or so following its commencement was madness. We had journalists contacting us, politicians, fan magazines, podcasts – we were thrilled. Even if this campaign wasn’t a success, we were delighted to have been beginning discussion and debate about sanitary products – it was the only way that menstruation could even begin to be normalised.
Our point of contact at Celtic Park got back to us and our communications with the club were open throughout this campaign. A lot of people seem to think we were pressuring the club, and that we were raging at them for whatever reason – but we weren’t! This became a possibility because of the club’s co-operation with us, they have been great.
We got a date in the diary to meet with Celtic to discuss our ideas going forward. We looked into options for the club if they were to go ahead and implement this. I have to give a lot of the credit to Mikaela here, she phoned around a number of different suppliers and organisations to explore options and pricing for free product provision – she is relentless! We did lots of research throughout, speaking to people fighting similar causes across the UK. With all the investigating we’d done, we felt really well-equipped to continue urging the club to implement this.
The initial meeting with Celtic went well, we think so anyway! The individuals we met with seemed really keen to learn more and were more than happy to explore any options they had to implement this going forward. We were to be updated with any developments, and left feeling quietly confident.
From the beginning of the campaign, we had been in touch with Monica Lennon MSP who has been incredibly supportive. Her work towards tackling period poverty is absolutely magic and I highly recommend checking out her ‘End Period Poverty campaign website – loads to read into and think about. Not long after the meeting with Celtic, she invited us to the Scottish Parliament to meet with her and to watch First Ministers Questions. With Mikaela unable to attend, Orlaith and I headed through to Edinburgh a couple of Thursdays ago – absolutely buzzing. We couldn’t believe our campaign had gained not just interest, but support at parliamentary level. Monica continues to support us and has undoubtedly laid the foundations for work like ours to be done. We are so so grateful.
It all sounds dead rosey, but we got a lot a lot of backlash. If you followed us online throughout, you’ll know this. We weren’t interested in getting into arguments. Personal attacks were ignored and concerns (no matter how harshly put) were met with explanations and facts. Through progressive discussion, minds were being changed – arguments would get us nowhere. People were agitated that the petition seemed to be everywhere and it was all that they were hearing about, but we were just saying our bit, it was out of our hands how many people shared it, made their own posts and started their own debates about it. A lot of the arguments against us were quite similar. “If you can afford tickets, you can afford tampons” was definitely the most popular, and we’re still hearing a lot of that now. We can’t assume that everyone buys their own ticket, there’s people there using spares that they haven’t paid for, people there with charities, foundations – e.g. The Kano. Also, there are young girls there with friends or family who haven’t paid for their ticket – its socially uncomfortable for them to have to go and ask a parent for a couple of pounds (got to be the exact change mind!) for a tampon. Women and girls get caught short all the time, periods can come unexpectedly and they’re unprepared, most women don’t even take a bag to the football! All that aside, it’s the principle. It feels wrong that we have to pay for sanitary products when toilet roll and soap are free – tampons and sanitary towels are just as necessary. No, this isn’t just a Celtic-only issue – but it’s a good place to start in terms of setting the precedent for Scottish football.
So, last week we were contacted by Celtic to advise they were going ahead – they will be making the machines free to vend by the start of next season. This will run for a trial until December, and is expected to be implemented permanently thereafter. We are absolutely thrilled to be able to share this news with everybody, and striving towards this has been worth every minute! Thanks so much to everybody who signed the petition, and everyone who offered us a helping hand. I also can’t go without thanking Jeanette Findlay, who offered us guidance and support on a number of occasions. Also massive thank you to Monica Lennon MSP and Kirsty-Louise who have been great friends to us throughout this. Thank you again one and all, and please see this as a call to action. If you’re not a Celtic fan, maybe not even a football fan – take this to your own clubs. Any football team, rugby team, any league, any part of the country – push your own teams. You can do it. We did. This is just the beginning.