Recent studies from The National Office of Statistic show that one third of the UK’s population have experienced poverty in recent years, with women being one of the most susceptible groups. While food banks and affordable housing are two of the more commonly debated subjects, for a variety of reasons period poverty has largely flown under the media radar. However for many women in the UK, the unfortunate reality is that they’re often faced with the difficult choice of either purchasing food, or sanitary products. Whichever way you look at it, it’s an unenviable decision.
However one of the more prominent surveys surrounding period poverty is the research conducted by the grassroots group Women for Independence. Surveying 1,000 women across the UK, they highlight that nearly one in five women have experienced period poverty, with women struggling to pay for basic sanitary products on a monthly basis, significantly impacting their health, hygiene and wellbeing.
With a staggering 20% of the female UK population going without sanitary products due to financial difficulties, many are opt to use substitute sanitary products such as old clothes, rags or newspaper during their menstrual cycle. Perhaps more alarming is that 11% of those surveyed described a significant impact on their health, such as urinary tract infections and other complications.
The overarching sentiment was that respondents described their feelings of shame and isolation, worrying about possible stains, the smell, feeling uncomfortable, and unable to go to work and social events due to the potential for embarrassment.
Similarly, children are faced with a variety of challenges at school, suffering from increased stress and anxiety while sitting in lessons, fearful that they may bleed onto their uniform or that their peers would find out. Under these circumstances, the easiest solution has often been for children to miss school entirely, resulting in the potential to fall behind in their academic endeavours, inhibiting their education and possible achievements in later life.
Free sanitary products to address period poverty
Despite half of the population experiencing menstruation at some point, it’s surprising that few workplaces have taken steps to tackle the issue. It’s widely accepted that washroom service amenities like soap dispensers and toilet paper are regularly provided free of charge, and the debate around whether this should be extended to sanitary products is still a relatively taboo subject, even though the underlying topic is one of gender equality and equal rights, which should never be shuffled under the carpet.
However despite the still relatively taboo nature of menstruation, there are encouraging signs that some organisations and sections of the government are tacking action. For example free sanitary products are to be made available in the Scottish Parliament building, after a decision by the cross-party Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB). The forward thinking and innovative approach is seen by many as a win for gender equality, providing free sanitary products in all 42 women\’s toilets across the parliamentary estate.
First minister Nicola Sturgeon also announced in her programme for government last September that free sanitary products would be also provided in schools, colleges and universities from the autumn of 2018. The ever-increasing price of sanitary products means that menstrual hygiene is currently a luxury for many women, and work across Scotland is attempting to make these simple amenities available to everyone.
Continuing Scotland’s support for free sanitary care, Celtic FC are also set to provide free sanitary products to women at their football stadium following a fan\’s period poverty campaign. Set up by Celtic fan Erin Slaven, her petition garnered more than 2,700 supporters, and with support from Celtic FC, she updated her campaign on change.org to show thanks for those who supported her:
\”Following discussions with the club around periods, period poverty and the visibility of female fans and our needs, we are delighted to announce that our club will lead the way as the first football club in the UK to provide free sanitary products. By the start of August, sanitary products will be available at no cost in all female toilets”
The football club is the first in the UK to take such progressive steps, and the hope is that the campaign will raise awareness around the topic of period poverty, and their good work will spread to other sympathetic teams and sports.
Tackling period poverty in schools
Tackling the issue of period poverty in schools, a Leeds based charity called Freedom4Girls is now giving tampons and towels to more than 20 schools in the city.
After being contacted by a local school when teachers became concerned that teenage girls were missing classes due to their periods, the charity (which supplies sanitary products to women in Kenya) agreed to extend their offering and provide local girls with free sanitary products. They did however stress that the UK government is still not doing enough to tackle period poverty, citing that a certain amount of ambivalence still exists within political establishments as to whether period poverty actually exists.
However while the argument as to whether the government still needs to do more will no doubt continue, A Level student Amika George has helped put pressure on MPs with her aptly named #FreePeriods campaign. After reading a report that highlighted how girls across the UK were living in such crippling levels of poverty, she started a petition that received a staggering 157,000 signatures.
Backed by overwhelming public support, in March 2018 the government announced that the money derived from the hotly debated tampon tax will go towards ending period poverty for the first time.
Tracey Crouch, the minister for sport and civil society, said thousands of women across the UK, including those in poverty, will benefit from the estimated £15 million generated from tampon tax. The money will be invested in good causes that tackle the serious issues that women of all ages face.
Innovative startups and consumer led change
Aside from large organisations and governmental influence, innovative and socially responsible startups are also playing their part. One such example is Hey Girls, an online e-commerce store where individuals can buy a range of sanitary products that offer a no leak, super comfy, chlorine and bleach free, environmentally friendly product.
However it’s their unique business model that is set to help make a tangible impact on period poverty, particularly for local communities. Under the premise that there are an increasing number of educated and socially considerate consumers, Hey Girls is funding the distribution of sanitary products to those who need them most.
Launched in January of this year, the company is very much at the beginning of their journey, but thanks to customers getting behind their vision, together they have already donated over 4,500 boxes of pads to girls in need.
100% the profits from their “Buy One Give One” products go directly to help girls and young women in need, with consumers encouraged that non of their profits go to corporate shareholders. For every box that they sell, they give a box away to a girl or young woman in need, and by tracking geographical areas where sales are made, donated boxes can be distributed back in to the local community.
Considering the wealth of the UK, the prevalence of period poverty is alarming, and while businesses, charities and sections of the government are making progress, much more still needs to be done.
In a country that consistently ranks in the top 10 of global economies, women and teenage girls should never have to use clothes as sanitary pads during their periods, but both consumers and progressive businesses can make tangible steps towards addressing the issue; we just need to raise awareness, and for more people to be aware of the problem in the first place.
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