"I have really enjoyed being able to campaign for women's rights on my return to the UK and hope that I'm able to do so for as long as I'm walking on this beautiful planet..."
Hannah Gaffey, from Salford and currently studying in London, recently spent time volunteering in Thiruvalangadu village, South India, on a project focused on breast cancer awareness and making periods normal. And now, inspired by her experiences in India, she has continued to fight for the rights of women in the UK.
"I discovered that there was a large stigma surrounding menstruation" Hannah says regarding the Indian culture she experienced "Periods are a taboo subject, to the extent that they are rarely discussed, even between a mother and a daughter.
"Many young girls will start puberty - turbulent and frightening at the best of times - without knowing what is happening to their bodies or what a menstrual cycle is" she adds "Due to lack of provision in public toilets, particularly in schools, many girls are forced to miss out on their education because they do not have access to toilets or products that can help them to manage their periods."
Hannah, who travelled to India with the international development organisation Restless Development as part of the UK government funded International Citizen Service (ICS) programme, worked with both British and local volunteers to run community sessions that aimed to empower women to be able to able to manage their periods safely and hygienically...
"The content of these sessions included a description of the menstrual cycle, demonstrations of how to make reusable sanitary pads from affordable and locally sourced materials and a myth busting session to dispel any fictitious rumours about periods" she explains "Our biggest achievement as a team was receiving feedback from women in the community, thanking us for enabling them to understand more about the menstruation process and how to manage periods effectively."
A key part of the ICS programme is that communities in the UK directly benefit from the skills volunteers gain while working in developing countries, via a scheme called Action At Home. So Hannah has been involved with a This Girl Can event celebrating female participation in sport, and has organised a collection of sanitary products in support of Bloody Good Period, a charity that supplies free sanitary products to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.
She's also attended the London Feminist Network's annual Reclaim The Night event to march against rape and all forms of male violence against women, and is an ambassador for breast cancer awareness charity CoppaFeel!, helping to raise £2,226 so far this year.
"My ICS placement inspired me to address women's rights back home in the UK because during my time abroad I realised that gender inequality has no borders" Hannah explains "For example, half of all school girls in the UK miss a full day of school because of their period, and in 2017 school girls in Leeds were found using socks instead of sanitary towels because they could not afford them.
"As a university student, the main challenges facing women in my community are instances of sexual assault due to individuals misunderstanding what consent is" she adds "To combat this, my netball club are rolling out a zero tolerance campaign which explores university students' opinions on the matter, whilst outlining what consent actually is. I have really enjoyed being able to campaign for women's rights on my return to the UK and hope that I'm able to do so for as long as I'm walking on this beautiful planet..."
ICS is funded by UK Aid, so young people aged between 18 and 25 can contribute to sustainable development projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and don't need cash, qualifications or work experience to take part, just the desire to make a difference to the lives of some of the world's poorest communities.
"It's really inspiring to hear about the fantastic work Hannah is doing" says Felicity Morgan, Director of ICS "We're incredibly proud that UK Aid is supporting young Brits to bring about positive change in some of the world's poorest communities."
To find out more about ICS or to apply to volunteer abroad see www.volunteerics.org