This two-part article focuses on the work of Zoe Chan from Free Periods HK, showcasing her efforts in addressing menstruation in Hong Kong. Following Part One of this article exploring safe periods and the importance of body autonomy in Hong Kong, Part Two explores period poverty in Hong Kong, and how Zoe works to help low-income and grassroots families.
Poverty manifests in different forms – from people dealing with extreme poverty living under the breadline, to those somewhere in between the breadline and minimum wage. Period poverty is no different. When thinking about period poverty, we tend to first think of girls in ‘Africa’ without sanitary products to use, who have to skip school, or drop out of school, because of their period. In Hong Kong, although “period poverty levels do not appear to be that serious”, there’s still women and girls amongst us facing struggles every month, says Zoe.
At present, Zoe does not partner with any organization or actor in particular. Instead, she’s worked with community centers in villages, after school activity centers, NGOs, and social workers, to name just a few. Zoe 'simply' works to increase awareness and knowledge on one’s body autonomy, and proper period-care practices. Her work differs to other NGOs, as most focus on going into schools to advocate for a safer period. But, through Zoe’s encounters, she’s realized schools are not always the places that need workshops and help the most – there are often only a few girls in the school from underprivileged backgrounds. As such, Zoe’s interactive workshops cater to anyone who needs her help, and introduces proper period-care practices, and how we can make our period a better experience for ourselves.
For example, she recalls the time she held a workshop with an NGO that serves young mothers in Hong Kong. By introducing and pitching the workshop to these women from an eco-friendly and cost-saving perspective, social workers were able to grasp the attention of the young mothers, and encourage them to attend Zoe’s workshop. Given our conservative attitudes towards menstruation in Hong Kong, bluntly advertising Zoe’s workshop as ‘gender empowerment through alternative period care’ is often met with apprehensiveness in our city.
Zoe’s workshops often focus on teaching attendees how to make their own reusable cloth pad, or how to use LUÜNA’s menstrual cup (which we donate to support her amazing work through our Buy-A-Cup, Give-A-Cup initiative). On Zoe’s encounter with grassroots families, she explains: “they have products to use, but they do not take into consideration how comfortable or safe the product is, and instead focus on its price. Or, sometimes they will purchase pads that have almost expired, or are on sale, simply because these pads are cheaper”. This is thus Hong Kong’s level of period poverty. Different to other places, but affecting the lives of women and girls nonetheless.
By introducing women and girls to reusables, Zoe is able to empower them to take control of their period and their body, instead of letting their period define and dictate their life once a month. Presenting grassroots women and girls with the alternative of reusables empowers them with more period product options, and lessens their financial burden slightly.
Zoe has also worked with women living in subdivided housing in Hong Kong, aged between 20-40 years old. “Their concern with regards to using cloth pads is it’s hard for the product to dry”, says Zoe. Given the limited living space and poor ventilation in Hong Kong’s subdivided housing, these women often opt for menstrual cups instead. “The sterilizing process is easier – you don’t need to sun-dry the cup, and it’s just faster to sterilize it” Zoe says, on the benefits of the menstrual cup, in comparison to reusable pads.
Another reason for favoring the menstrual cup over cloth pads is the presence of men in the family. Although Zoe works to combat the negative associations many of us have with regards to our period in Hong Kong, there are still some gender barriers that are hard to breakthrough. Thus, owing to the small living space, and the presence of men in the family, women often express that “they don’t want to have to hang their washed cloth pads out, in front of the men”, and using a menstrual cup is easiest, says Zoe.
By partnering with LUÜNA, Zoe hopes to benefit more people, through our Buy-A-Cup, Give-A-Cup menstrual cup donation scheme. With the initiative, LUÜNA will be partnering with Zoe’s work with Free Periods HK, to donate a cup to those in need for every cup sold.
Zoe believes gender empowerment is important, but acknowledges this can only be achieved through having access to the right resources. Given menstruation is such an important aspect of a woman and girl’s life, Zoe’s work helps to empower those experiencing period poverty in Hong Kong, and present them with alternatives that hopefully constitute to empowering them in their everyday lives.
Meet the amazing author of this article: Athena Kung
Athena Kung is LUUNA’s intern in Hong Kong. After completing her undergraduate degree in Human Geography at Durham University, she will be returning in October to complete her Masters. She enjoys meeting individuals who seek to consolidate gender equality in Hong Kong. Athena is also interested in finding new ways to be more sustainable in daily life, and encouraging others to adopt eco-friendly habits too!