How did you get into writing?
I did my undergraduate degree in modern languages at Somerville College, Oxford, then followed this with a master’s in international relations at the University of Pennsylvania. I had a Fulbright scholarship which allowed me a few months to do an internship, and I got one at The Nation magazine in New York. At that point I was still undecided between law and journalism, but the Nation was so wonderful, I chose journalism. I worked at COLORS magazine for a few years, and have been freelance ever since.
What sparked this interest and why did you feel compelled to write the material that you do?
I’ve always written about topics that I think are important but ignored. They are easy to notice, but most people don’t. That applies to refugees (the subject of my first book), sanitation (my second) or shipping and seafarers (the third). I began to write about menstruation and menstrual hygiene through my work in sanitation: once you notice that so many girls drop out of school when they reach puberty because there is no toilet, it’s easy to make the connection.
What has been your biggest achievement to date and what are you most proud of?
I’m extremely proud of my book The Big Necessity. I still get emails from people saying how much of an impact it has had on them, and how it has changed their views. Some have written to say they have chosen to work in NGOs or as sanitation engineers, partly because of my book. No writer could wish for more than that.
What issues do you feel particularly passionate about and important to address or change?
I feel passionate about injustice. I don’t think it is just or fair for example that a perfectly natural function such as menstruation should be cloaked in taboo, disdain and ridiculous adverts that only ever promote sanitary products as something that makes women discreet and fragrant. I will not be discreet, either about the fact I have periods, or about writing about it.
In what ways do you feel the public could get involved or behind this to improve the situation?
In a way it’s very simple when something is this neglected: talk about it. In sanitation more broadly, I know that there are hundreds of people doing the real work of policy change, or working in the field. My job is to communicate what they do, and I try to do that as best I can. The public can support organizations financially, but also in small ways, like not hiding their tampons or sanitary pads when they queue up at the checkout; or making sure young girls and women are not encouraged to be ashamed; or petitioning the government on the absurd fact that sanitary protection is taxed.
Why is getting involved in Talk Period event important to you?
I support any new initiative around improving the status of menstruation and menstrual hygiene. Those two both sounds like things that are only relevant to the developing world, but there is much to change in the developed world too, such as the lack of transparency about the dioxin content in cotton used in sanitary protection; or a taboo that means sportswomen, for example, can’t admit they’re having periods even when it affects their performance. For a start.
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