Founder, Dignity. Period.
You might recognize Erin Casey as the Period Lady — her Dignity. Period. campaign has raised awareness about period poverty and collected more than 100,000 menstrual hygiene items across Nova Scotia since September 2018. She is also a co-founder of the Period Poverty Summit, a one-day conference held in October 2019 in Dartmouth.
In her paid work life, Erin is a writer, editor, and communication professional. Her mission is to spread the gospel of clear communication so we can all connect with the people, services, products, and information we need. She specializes in education, business, health, research, and social justice topics, and in making complex information accessible.
In her own words:
I became a period poverty activist by accident.
Everyone’s talking about period poverty these days, but in December 2016 it was still pretty unfamiliar to most people. Even today, when I explain that period poverty means difficulty affording menstrual products like pads, tampons, and menstrual cups, and that one-third of Canadian women under 25 report experiencing it, the reaction typically goes something like this:
Stunned silence, followed by, “I have never thought about that… That. Is. Terrible.”
Period poverty is indeed terrible. The social and economic implications of doing without basic personal hygiene are hard to even talk about: Missed work, school, and social opportunities. Unbearable stress, illness, and fear. Using a sock or toilet paper and worrying about bleeding through your clothes all day. Not being able to leave your house. Sacrificing your own menstrual hygiene so your child can have what she needs.
In other words, period poverty is yet another layer of social inequality that keeps menstruators — the vast majority of whom are women and girls — from participating equally in work, in education, and in their communities. Period poverty is yet another obstacle women, girls, trans and non-binary people, and poor people face in the uphill battle for dignity, respect, and full citizenship.
It’s not fair.
And so, in December 2016, I asked my friends to donate pads and tampons as a little Christmas charity thing. I gathered three garbage bags of stuff, donated it, and, to be honest, forgot about it.
A year later, I thought I’d have a little gathering at my house the Friday before Christmas and invite pretty much all the women I know. Several dozen cookies, a few buckets of tea, and many fascinating conversations (about periods, puberty, childbirth, menopause) later, I had 17 garbage bags full of menstrual products. More than 50 women had come to my house that day, giving products, money, and their time. Several had done mini-campaigns in their neighbourhoods and workplaces to collect donations.
Hm, I thought to myself. That was easy.
I didn’t know it yet, but the #PadParty was born.
Fast forward to June of 2018, and my friends Andrea Hewitt and Sheila Strong from the law firm McInnes Cooper approached me to see if I wanted to partner on a corporate social responsibility initiative. They would provide support, guidance, and host a Pad Party if I would try to get more people to have Pad Parties. We called our project Dignity. Period. and figured if we could get six or seven people to have parties in their homes we’d be pretty pleased.
A little over a year and one very busy Facebook page later, the Dignity. Period. campaign has reached thousands of people. About 60 people, businesses, and organizations across the province have thrown Pad Parties, held fundraisers, and donated portions of their profits. Feed Nova Scotia was an important partner, helping to spread the word and distribute donations.
I can’t know for sure, but I estimate that around 100,000 menstrual hygiene items have been collected since I started this — that’s enough for more than 330 menstruators for a whole year!
Period poverty has, over the past year, become a big deal. Everyone is talking about it. Governments at all levels are starting to take responsibility for this important gender equity issue. Businesses are recognizing the toll it takes on productivity and profits, and schools are acknowledging that kids miss class because they don’t have a pad.
I’ve partnered with Suzanne Lively, founder of Friendly Divas, to put on the first-ever Period Poverty Summit — a one-day conference on October 29th to bring all the amazing people working towards menstrual equity in Nova Scotia together. Suzanne raises money to buy DivaCups, reusable and eco-friendly menstrual cups, for people in need.
Together, I believe we can solve period poverty, but it means periods need to come out of the closet and be acknowledged as a normal, healthy part of life. That’s my not-so-secret agenda: an end to period shame and to menstruators being denied full access to public life.
What’s your vision for Atlantic Canada in 10 years? What’s our biggest opportunity now?
It might sound cliché, but my vision for Atlantic Canada is an inclusive, diverse, environmentally sustainable community of people who support and take care of each other — a place where everyone has what they need to live with dignity and purpose, and where people with privilege use that privilege to make change. We have a long way to go in terms of acknowledging social inequality and including and integrating newcomers, persons with disabilities, African Nova Scotians, and people living in poverty in public life and economic opportunity.
What was your greatest stage of growth? What made it a shift for you?
Becoming a mother 19 years ago! I have two kids: a son in university and a daughter in high school. I mom hard, and mothering has taught me more than everything else in my life combined. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and I don’t care what anyone says — it’s only magical about 15% of the time! Seriously, though, what it mostly did was hammer the perfectionism out of me, and teach me that there’s not one right way to do things or to succeed. I am proud to say that — believe it or not! — my teenagers are delightful.
What’s your favourite or most read book or podcast? Now or at each of your greatest stages of growth?
I read mostly novels, to be honest. Also essays, biographies, graphic novels, and history. I can’t get through self-help or business books!
What’s your deepest learning from this past year? How did/will you apply it?
I learned that I don't have to know how to do something to actually do it! I'd never run a campaign before, but I was so angry about period poverty, and that anger drove me to inspire other people and create a campaign that really resonated across Nova Scotia.
Who’s inspired you, directly or indirectly? How have they inspired you?
Suzanne Lively from Friendly Divas (https://livelyfriends.com/friendly-divas/) started her campaign to buy DivaCups for those in need a couple of years ago, and she has been a huge source of inspiration, support, and guidance. I can't thank her enough. The other members of my Period Poverty Summit (https://periodpovertysummit.com/) committee, anti-poverty activist Jodi Brown and school guidance counsellor Lori Welsh, also inspire me every day!
My husband also inspires me, every day. As CEO of a charity that serves kids, he cares for a living and works really hard to make Halifax a better, more inclusive city.
What are you most proud of professionally? And who or why?
I’m proud of being a small business owner. I started my writing and editing business a little over five years ago after I moved back to Halifax after ten years living in other provinces. I’d been through a traumatic employment experience, and wasn’t ready to go back into a traditional job. I signed up for a self-employment program through CEED (the Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development), and every day I just kind of made myself do the stuff I needed to do, even though I was scared and not at all sure what I wanted. Now, almost six years later, my business is thriving and I love being self-employed.
How have you recovered from fractured professional relationships? What uncomfortable truths have you learned from those experiences?
I mention above that I had a very negative and traumatic employment experience a number of years ago. For legal reasons, I can’t discuss it. But it was profoundly painful and led to the breakdown of many close personal and professional relationships. I learned that even good people can be bystanders to abuse and bullying, because it takes enormous strength — and tolerance for risk — to stand up to institutional oppression. I learned that you could know someone very well, but until you go through something really challenging together you will never discover how strong they really are, for better or worse. I learned that women have to stick together and help each other, or nothing is ever going to change. I also learned that forgiving people is one of the hardest things you can do. I still miss many of the friends and colleagues I lost.
What would you have done differently?
I rarely look back on my life with regret. Yes, of course I’ve made mistakes, but I don’t think there’s much point in worrying about them. There’s plenty to worry about RIGHT NOW, and I can be a champion worrier! So I guess I’d say if I could DO anything differently, I would worry less and spend more time living in the moment.
What are the principles you live by?
I’m very lucky. No life is easy, and bad things have happened to me. But I’ve lived a privileged life, and I recognize that much of what we consider merit-based success is largely down to the luck of the draw: I was born into a family that could meet my material and emotional needs, and this set me up for success. Yes, I work hard, but I am keenly aware that I could just as easily have been born into a completely different life. It’s my responsibility to use what I have to help other people.
Fight for what you believe is right and fair. Remember that everyone has a story. Help other women. Include.
Activist, advocate, writer, editor, entrepreneur
Photo by: Jodi Brown