Earlier this year our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that New Zealand schools would offer free period products as of this June, acknowledging that one in twelve young New Zealanders miss school because of period poverty.
Jacinta Gulasekharam has been working towards eliminating period poverty in Aotearoa New Zealand for years before this. Alongside her business partner Miranda Hitchings, she co-founded Dignity; a social enterprise that exists to deliver period equity and reduce stigmatisation. They’ve achieved this mammoth task through initiatives such as the ‘buy-one gift-one’ partnerships with businesses. Through these models, Dignity has been able to tackle period poverty with stellar results such as an 81% reduction in students feeling shame. From the bleachers to the big stage,
Jacinta’s keen insight into the needs of her fellow people who have periods and her desire to help has shifted her from an attendee of ‘Festival for Future’ a few years ago to a keynote speaker. We reached out to Jacinta to further understand Dignity and the mighty force that drives it.
Festival for the Future: How did you come up with Dignity? Was there a specific moment or situation that birthed the idea?
Jacinta: Dignity came from a series of ‘aha’ moments for Miranda and I. The first was our pivot from being an app that delivers period products, to a workplace wellbeing initiative. This happened from our customer discovery as we heard from women the sense of unfairness about products not being there when you needed them. We saw on the news at the same time that students were missing out on school due to lack of access to products, this is when we decided to have an impact model of buy-one-give-one.
FFTF: ‘Dignity’ is such a powerful name for the initiative – how do you practice dignity every day?
Jacinta: The definition of dignity is ‘the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect’. There are many ways to do this and one way I try is with every interaction I have, to leave them or a thing in a better state than I found it. This is as simple as giving someone a smile, making sure you have eye contact when speaking with someone or leaving the kitchen in a better place for the next person. You can also provide dignity to yourself by making sure you get enough sleep, eat foods that nourish you and move your body in a way that feels good.
FFTF: What is your driver, the “why” that keeps you pushing forward to provide equity to girls and women around NZ?
Jacinta: Period equity is an overarching vision that isn’t achieved until all of us are able to experience it. There are so many more employees that should have access to these products when they need to. Also, there are many menstruators that experience period poverty outside of the school system that need period products. Our journey continues until we can all experience shame-free periods.
FFTF: A common obstacle to starting any personal endeavour is to just start - what was the key moment that riled the courage in you to pursue such an important social issue?
Jacinta: I remember the conversation I had with Vanisa Dhiru at Festival for the Future. It was a moment that mattered when I felt small and powerless, defeated from losing a student election. She saw the potential in me to keep going with a passion I had and started to brainstorm ways for me to explore it further. Sometimes it takes others to see the potential in you, before you are able to see it for yourself.
FFTF: Matters dealing with bodily functions can be sensitive topics of discussion – what are some obstacles you faced when spreading awareness period poverty?
Jacinta: Language is really important on this issue, because the more you use words like ‘shark week’ or ‘aunt flow’ the more you are stigmatizing, hiding and creating shame when it comes to periods. Helping others use the correct terms and us still on our own journey with language has been a huge obstacle for all of us.
FFTF: Attending the Festival was one of your inspirations in starting Dignity – what exactly inspired you and how did you feel inspired to take action?
Jacinta: There were a few things at Festival that inspired me, the first was the venue setup. I felt so immersed in the atmosphere that it made me feel inspired. When I heard Daniel Flynn from ‘Thankyou Payroll’ speak, the lightbulb went off. Him overcoming his setbacks made me realise I could overcome mine. In that moment I knew that my failure was just a stepping stone to a bigger journey and that I had to keep going.
FFTF: Festival for Future’ is fertile grounds for creating connections and meeting inspired minds, what encouragement would you give someone who is new networking?
Jacinta: Festival is a gathering of so many amazing people but I totally understand how it can feel overwhelming. My top tip is to go near the food and to find people who might be standing by themselves and just start talking to them, they’ll probably be as nervous as you are! Talking about food or where people have travelled to get there is a great start to a chat.
FFTF: As someone who gained inspiration from ‘Festival for Future’, how would advise attendees to make the most of the event?
Jacinta: Soak it in! Read through the agenda and feel which events make you excited to go along to. Keep hydrated and write notes as you go, it’ll help to process all the insights you’re collecting to work out what action you want to take after the festival.
FFTF: What is the biggest take home message you’d like to impart to listeners of your speech at ‘Festival for Future’?
Jacinta: If you feel passionate about an issue, you can start something to make change. There is no limit to creating change other than yourself, just starting is the hardest part!