Sometimes people call me The Period Lady and I’m okay with that.

I’ve talked about periods in the school where I used to teach. My menstruation education lessons were recognised as best practice by several national sexual health charities. I’ve talked about periods on Woman’s Hour, on stage at Off The Shelf Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe and TEDx, in The Guardian and in The Independent, among other places – so it’s a fair point.

The last time I wrote about periods for Now Then (issue #86), I introduced the idea of being #periodpositive. It’s a campaign designed to encourage people to share stuff about periods out loud, rather than whispering or keeping it a secret the way adverts still encourage us to do.

#periodpositive believes menstruation education should be free, unbranded, objective, inclusive of reusables (like menstrual cups and cloth pads), and easy to understand. It should be consistently taught by trained staff, factually accurate, up-to-date, well-researched and regularly evaluated with pupils and menstruation education practitioners, There should be communication with other faculties, parents and community partners about the content of lessons.

It should also be delivered in ‘teachable moments’ as they arise, as well as in planned curriculum lessons, from an early age to boys and girls together, confidently and using memorable and engaging activities. It needs to actively challenge messages of shame through media literacy and should serve as a good foundation for lessons on fertility, puberty and reproductive health. It should be inclusive of menstruators on the margins, such as trans menstruators and those with special needs.

And, of course, it goes hand in hand with thoughtful and thorough menstruation management provision, like access to products and information about reusables, so that young people can make informed decisions now and in future.

Now the project is into phase two: #periodpositive cities.

While researching menstruation education for my master’s degree at Sheffield Hallam, I found that pupils wanted to see a symbol that would let them know they could talk to some of their teachers about periods. I created the easily-recognisable smiling blood droplet logo as a sign to young people that even though many people still felt uncomfortable talking about periods, there are plenty who will. I also developed a method of teaching about taboo topics using art and drama, particularly comedy, to disrupt the negative pattern of messages being passed down with each new generation.

I researched and shared activities from my project across Sheffield and more widely in other parts of the UK. I got some really positive feedback at a menstruation research conference in Atlanta, Georgia this past summer. Throughout that time, I was working on an idea to use the #periodpositive symbol as a charter award, establishing a set of guidelines for best practice menstruation education with a holistic approach.

Using the charter in a pilot programme across the schools that sign up, I’m now aiming to turn Sheffield into Britain’s first #periodpositive city and help it to become the first place in the UK to develop a strategy to challenge menstrual taboos. I’ve sat down with Sheffield City Council members, talked to school governors and had a meeting with the chief executive of Learn Sheffield, Stephen Betts, who gave the pilot a commission on the spot.

My MP, Louise Haigh, has been incredibly supportive, putting me in touch with other Labour MPs who are looking at issues around menstruation, so I can talk to them about avoiding becoming embroiled in corporate partnerships with menstrual product companies when looking at short-term solutions to ‘period poverty’. After all, those companies have influenced schools enough by offering free lessons emblazoned with their logos, branding and attitudes.

You may have heard about period poverty in the news. I’m convinced it’s not just financial poverty, especially since some menstrual products aren’t very expensive (of course, the brands that advertise in schools all are). I think it’s also a poverty of knowledge and confidence. It’s not just having the resources, but knowing what to do with them. When I was a kid I was embarrassed to have the shop’s own brand and insisted that my mum, gran and aunties seek out the posh ones when they were on sale, because I’d seen them during the period talk at school.

Kids who are shy about talking about periods aren’t going to feel more confident unless they see confident role models in front of them, and the chances are the adults in their lives aren’t going to feel more confident unless they have a think about whether the person who taught them was confident.

In Sheffield, I’m hoping that becoming a #periodpositive city means embracing a completely new way of thinking and talking about menstruation to dramatically improve things for our young people. It also means working with trusted researchers with evidence-based learning materials. I’m intent on going into schools and creating bespoke solutions around unique issues with particular kids. The hope is that by logging and sharing what we do in Sheffield, we can set up a charter of best practice for schools to take on, which can also be shared with and replicated by other cities.

I hope that teachers, parents and pupils will show their support and encourage their schools to get involved. I’m very proud to live in a city that is willing to get the national conversation moving and is not relying on big multinational corporations selling menstrual products to do it.

The resources I have developed recently received national recognition from leading sexual health charities Brook and FPA for delivering innovative sex and relationships education to young people and I’m really excited about sharing them.

The #periodpositive Charter will support schools to evidence that:

– the school environment supports young people to manage menstruation easily in order to maximise learning time, attendance and focus.

– young people understand the biology, management, media and myths around menstruation.

– staff feel more confident and knowledgeable about supporting pupils’ menstruation education, both formally and in ‘teachable moments’.

– subject specialists and pastoral staff are prepared for upcoming National Curriculum guidelines for Relationship and Sex Education in 2019.

If every school, every teacher, every parent, every multi-agency support network in the city made one or two small changes in their language and their actions, we could completely transform how young people in this city feel about menstruation, puberty, their bodies and their futures. Every part of the community can support the #periodpositive initiative, because if we all take this step forwards together, no one needs to feel awkward or embarrassed when they talk about periods.

It could have a massive impact on how young people feel about their bodies and their relationships for years to come, and it will be natural for them to pass the message on.

Talk to your school, your child’s school or to any teachers you know about the charter pilot. They can find out more at learnsheffield.co.uk/Commissions/Current-Commissions.

periodpositive.com | @periodpositive | @chellaquint

Chella Quint