A Bloody Good Education - an interview with Terri Harris by BGP blog volunteer, Heidi Stedeford.
Terri Harris is the Menstrual Sexual and Reproductive Health Manager at Bloody Good Period. As a bloody brilliant menstrual health specialist, Terri delivers our Education programme, bringing medical professionals to refugee and asylum-seeking communities to increase access to sexual, reproductive and menstrual health education.
Hi Terri, can you start by telling me a bit about your background?
My background is in the International Development and Sexual Education sector, specifically in East Africa, the Middle East and more recently in the UK. As a menstrual health specialist, I’ve been privileged to be in the background of several big menstrual health moments such as helping with the PLAN International UK’s Menstrual Manifesto in 2018.
Could you walk me through a day in your life at BGP?
As the Menstrual Sexual and Reproductive Health Manager - which is a bit of a mouthful - I run our Education programme, aiming to bring knowledge on all these areas to refugee and asylum-seeking communities. We work with local partner organisations to provide education sessions to around 60 individuals per month and have managed to bring them all online during the pandemic. This can often be quite difficult as the people we work with don’t always have internet or a private space. I’m really proud that we’ve been able to navigate this successfully so we can continue to provide education where it’s needed.
A good portion of my time is taken up with logistical tasks, such as organising medical specialists to deliver our sessions, setting them up with our partner organisations and organising their content. Most of the education we provide is gynaecological, but we’ve recently had quite a lot of requests for information about breast cancer. To ensure the education we provide is relevant and useful, I’ve recently been organising a joint session with the breast cancer awareness charity CoppaFeel! to share their specialist knowledge.
When I’m not organising education sessions, I develop Bloody Good Period’s overall education strategy, planning new projects and working out the best way we can deliver them based on who we work with. It’s so important that people get the right education based on their needs.
I also get involved with other areas of the charity’s work - such as communications on normalising periods and holding product manufacturers to account, or helping Gabby with campaign work! I recently wrote an article about period product giant Always’s report on “period positivity” (note the inverted commas) which you can read here.
That all sounds great! How does this programme relate to other work in the sector?
I think the sheer number of partner organisations who want to work with us suggests we are filling a gap in the sector. There seems to be a lot of education programmes that are delivered to young people but not many that are specifically for adults or marginalised communities in the UK. The people we work with often won’t have had any menstrual health education previously and so won’t have had its benefits.
Having worked in this sector for quite a long time, I’ve realised that it can be quite an exclusive space and the education isn’t always inclusive of people’s cultural and religious understandings of the world. What’s amazing about Bloody Good Period is that we take an inclusive, feminist, and anti-racist lens to our education and aim for it to be firmly situated within people’s everyday experiences. This means rather than telling people what to do, we want to provide people with the knowledge to choose what is best for them and encourage them to develop best practices for their lifestyle.
This is facilitated by the medical professionals we bring into our sessions. Often people who teach menstrual health sessions don’t have a medical background, which can have its benefits, but it can also have its drawbacks in other ways. If participants have questions about their biology or on contraception, it’s good to have a medical professional there. This is especially important as there’s a lot of distrust towards larger institutions and medical service providers because of the trauma a lot of the people we work with have experienced. We are trying to bridge that gap by taking medical professionals into our setting and hopefully rebuilding some trust whilst doing so.
Do you have any advice to other organisations who are interested in providing menstrual health education?
Firstly, reach out to Bloody Good Period so we can see what capacity we have to work with you.
It’s important to always talk to the people you work with first. We don’t go in with a one size fits all approach but talk with our partner organisations before planning any sessions so we can assess what they need. It might be that people need to learn how to use menstrual products or that they are finding it difficult to advocate at their doctors, both of which require different types of sessions.
I learn as much from the people we work with as they learn from the medical professionals and I think that’s an important standpoint. No one’s knowledge is more important than others as we all may be experiencing menstruation and that experience is just as important as the knowledge that medical professionals have. I’ve found that some organisations think menstrual cups are great and so really encourage people to use them, however this might not be a realistic or viable option for them. Rather than pushing a particular period product, it’s better to provide knowledge and availability of all options so that they are empowered to choose what’s best for them.
I’m really proud to be part of an organisation that develops education sessions with the people we work with.