Let’s Talk About Period Poverty

Period poverty was a campaign that gained momentum in 2017, particularly following a protest outside Downing Street as part of the ‘Free Periods’ movement. Since then, I have come across many organisations that have been instrumental in the fight to end period poverty. This also includes big companies such as Always, Bodyform, and Time Of The Month (TOTM), to name but a few.

Before this campaign, period poverty was an unknown concept. It needs to be more widely discussed in order to fight it and my goal in this post is to inform and spread awareness regarding this issue.

I think any female can sympathise with this case, and it is perhaps an issue that cannot truly be understood unless you have been through it first-hand. We have all experienced that awkward situation where you have started your period (often unexpectedly), and you haven’t got any provisions, which is easily done. I have personally had situations where I have been working and had to run to the chemist across the road because my period had started suddenly. Of course, this was not before I had checked the staff bathroom to see if there were any sanitary products available, after all, there were about 8 females working there, compared to just one man. The environment was busy and stressful enough without the stress of wondering how I was going to come across some sanitary products during my short break. Therefore, I would argue that it should be law for employers supply sanitary products for their female employees to use in cases of emergencies.

Don’t get me wrong, in an ideal world I would obviously love for sanitary products to be free universally, but it is a given that a scheme like that is simply not realistic.

Although, it is worth mentioning that Scotland was the first country in the world to give free tampons to low-income families, and I think England should follow suit. In March, the government gave £1.5 million towards the campaign to end period poverty – a step in the right direction.

As it stands, you will find many dispensing machines for tampons or sanitary products in toilets of pubs, restaurants, and even libraries, – all charging a minimum of 50p for a tampon or sanitary pad. This is extortionate in comparison to how much sanitary products are at the average supermarket. It is obvious that in a moment of desperation, a female is forced to use whatever is available. Often, these products are not actually the standard that they would usually be in the supermarket, and can cause discomfort and can hinder anything you planned on doing that day.

A 2017 study by children’s charity – Plan International UK – asked 1,000 girls between the ages of 14 and 21 about their experiences with menstruation. They found that ‘’1 in 10 teenage girls, at some point, have been unable to afford sanitary products’’. They also found that “half of all schoolgirls miss a full day of school due to their period, and 68% were unable to pay attention in class’’. There has even been a case of ‘’schoolgirls in Leeds using socks instead of sanitary towels’’. The girls were having to either ‘’tape tissues onto their pants (to which, if you caught some skin on your labia when pulling your pants down, the pain is excruciating), as well as socks’’ to replace sanitary pads. It took this dire case study to give period poverty the much-needed coverage it deserves.

One thing we must address is the claim that women spend ‘£500’ a year on sanitary products. This needs to be debunked. Period poverty is a real thing, but it does not cost £500. There will be families who simply cannot afford to buy sanitary products every month, as they cannot afford food as it is. Spending £500 would imply that the average woman spends £41.66 per period cycle, which is frankly a ridiculous claim. Bloody Good Period conducted their own calculations, and have estimated that the average period costs “£10 a month, and therefore £4800 over their lifetime’’, and that is for the sanitary products alone. However, I can personally vouch, as can many of my friends, is that when thinking about periods and the expense of them, you do not have to buy just sanitary products. It is the pain relief that you have to buy so your period pain does not disrupt your life, it is the days off work one might have to take because you are bed bound due to the pain of cramps. It is the food you buy due to your hormones and cravings. Finally, it is also the new pairs of pants you have to buy and the cost of new sheets when you inevitably ruin your sheets due to an unexpected period. You might argue that you can wash them, but blood is very hard to get out of materials, and it is never nice to have blood stains on the sheets that you sleep on.

It is important to note that everyone’s flow is different, and this can affect your monthly costing for period provisions. For example, my period tends to be slightly heavy for the first two days, then is just spots of blood for 4 days. However, I have friends who have incredibly heavy periods, and many of them have said that they, on average, spend £10 a month on sanitary products, pain relief, etc. Many women have to wear both tampons and sanitary pads at the same time in order to prevent possible leaking. Not everyone’s pain is the same, it varies greatly, and some women have to go further than Feminax and ibuprofen, and buy higher-strength medication, which is often more expensive, and without this, they would possibly not be able to do their daily tasks.

I would like to take this opportunity to shed light on some of the sanitary product companies who have schemes in the fight against period poverty. For example, Always have a scheme called #EndPeriodPoverty, which is developed to help girls afford sanitary products and not have to miss out on school. This campaign has resulted in Always donating 5 million pads to school girls in its first 3 months. Always, along with TOTM – a company who produce biodegradable sanitary products – have partnered with The Red Box Project. TOTM wants to make sure “no young woman misses out on her education because of her period’’. Another sanitary product company, Bodyform, have donated 200,000 packs of sanitary products in the fight to end period poverty.

Finally, one organisation who have been at the forefront of the period poverty campaign is Bloody Good Period. They help refugees, asylum seekers, and people who simply cannot afford sanitary products. Good things are happening to help period poverty, but I think we can all agree that the government could be doing more, especially when period poverty can lead to the theft of sanitary products, using unsanitary products to replace a pad, and can be detrimental to ones mental health.

Overall, I think that we can all agree that access to sanitary products should be a human right, and universally available to everyone, regardless of their background.

In the words of freeperiods.org – it’s damaging, it’s undignified, it’s unacceptable, and it. must. stop.

(Author note: This post was originally posted to We In This House)


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