Manchester Women’s Charity duo receive praise from Westminster: The girls who just wanna have FUNdamental dignity

Elle for Elle, a Manchester-based charity campaigning for ‘moments of dignity’ for women in refuges across the UK, have been praised by the Cabinet Office’s Steve Coppard.

Most women can relate to being caught off guard at work and having to ask their closest female colleague to use her sanitary products.

This is hopefully followed by the relief when she says “Yeah, I think I’ve got something in my bag” and the promise to yourself that you’ll never let it happen again.

But for some survivors of domestic violence, this happens every single month, not because they are forgetful, but because they have no money or access to sanitary products.

Elle for Elle founders, Lynette Page-Collin (above left) and Rachel O’Hare, hope to change this through their voluntary organisation which collects sanitary, body, face and hair care products for vulnerable women living in UK refuges.

Realising that so many of their own products sit unused in their drawers, Lynette and Rachel knew that the same could be said for most women, and wanted to put these items towards something that could be of huge societal value.

“Our campaign ‘Dignity after Distress’ is helping vulnerable women maintain some dignity by keeping the bathrooms and cupboards of refuges stocked up with beauty products so that they can at least take a hot shower and use some decent products whilst keeping personal hygiene private without feeling more degraded.”

Debt and financial abuse are two of the biggest, yet unknown symptoms of domestic abuse. Having often suffered financial exploitation from partners, women in refuges are repeatedly left unable to buy even basic provisions such as sanitary products, toothpaste and makeup to cover any bruising.

Elle for Elle provides moments of dignity for women in refuges, by supplying them with good quality care products which they don’t have to ask for, eliminating period worry, building confidence and allowing for elements of normality within these women’s lives. 

Without these items, women have been known to resort to petty theft of menstrual products in order to maintain their dignity which in turn, strips them of their morals.

Contrastingly, women and transgender women in custody in UK prisons are provided with free sanitary products under a new law.  

Katie Kempen, Head of the Independent Custody Visitors Association (ICVA), says: “It ensures that the needs of female detainees are addressed, that detainees have basic privacy to use a toilet and access to menstrual products and that dignity is promoted within the police custody environment.”

Why then, should innocent women who have already suffered, lose their dignity?

Lynette and Rachel recognise that despite it being a private issue about period poverty and female hygiene and appearance, it is ultimately a public problem about the most basic rights of women.

“Our chat with Steve was to help him understand that domestic abuse victims fall into the government’s fairness plans,” says Rachel.

After meeting Elle For Elle, Steve Coppard said: “The government made a commitment to help the most vulnerable indebted people through its recent Joint Statement on Fairness with the advice sector.

“The work that Elle for Elle does not only provides moments of dignity for those in desperate situations, but also starts to expose some of the more challenging elements of life in a women’s refuge, including the vulnerable position that survivors of economic abuse find themselves in, especially in relation to moving forward into their own homes with the added stresses of debt arrears.”

In highlighting a governmental responsibility to look after the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of the vulnerable in society, Rachel emphasises how damaging it can be to arrive at a refuge with nothing.

“Often fleeing from domestic abuse with small children, having to ask for a tooth brush or sanitary wear is the last bit of dignity that these women may lose,” she said.

“It’s incredible what a difference a lipstick and a little make-up can make to these vulnerable women,” added Lynette.

“It’s such a simple mechanic but has large and long-lasting results in terms of improving their self-confidence. This, in turn, can help them get back into employment, and start the journey to standing on their own two feet again.

“Steve was very welcoming and open to our ideas and will continue to support Elle for Elle on our mission to help the future of domestic abuse survivors.”

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