Period poverty is the inability to access feminine sanitary products due to financial limitations. It is an issue that not many would think would be prevalent in a highly developed country like the UK. However, according to Channel 4 News, 1 in 10 teenage girls have, at some point, been unable to afford sanitary products. This results in many teenage girls being unable to attend school during their period, due to their inability to afford supplies. Sometimes, teachers resort to using their own money in such circumstances to help girls avoid losing valuable education.
Unfortunately, in an attempt to avoid truanting affecting their grades, often girls have had to improvise when it comes to sanitary towels, be using old newspapers or clothes in lieu of pads.
In the UK, sanitary products have a 5 per cent VAt added onto the price, as they are not labeled as essential items, According to the BBC, a girl in the UK at the age of 19 has already spent a staggering £232 on sanitary products, £11 of which is on VAT. In a woman’s lifetime, it is predicted that she will spend an astounding £1,400 on products, £68 of which on VAT.
Period poverty is an issue that is beginning to be addressed and tackled. The University of Edinburgh is starting to tackle the issue of period poverty, with free tampons and sanitary towels in the campus toilets, and on offer at the Advice Place. This is part of Scotland’s new program to supply all women and girls in schools and universities with these essential items for free. This is to prevent any worries about their periods hindering their education and enabling students to concentrate on their studies. Scotland is the first country in the world to implement a program of this kind.
However, this program does not help homeless women and female asylum seekers. Asylum seekers, in particular, have lost their home, family, friends and have escaped to another country alien to their own. For these women, the inability to buy period supplies is an additional burden which is not only mentally draining but unhygienic and physically dangerous.
Gabby Edun recognised the lack of free period supplies in asylum seeker centres and set up the project ‘Bloody Good Period.’ The project gives free period supplies to asylum seekers across centres in London and Leeds, and they aim to spread their project to many other centres in the UK.
Another organisation tackling period poverty is Sanitree, an ecofeminist organisation. Sanitree is active on the university campus, holding regular talks and events to inform students of the issue.
The company has created an affordable and reusable cotton pad for the women of Bhind, North India. They aim to seel the pads in the UK to reduce the amount of waste periods create worldwide. Sanitree recognised that in India, periods are stigmatised, being regarded as revolting and unspeakable, as “curses from God for being a woman.” 71 per cent of women in India has no prior knowledge of menstruation before their first period.
Due to this alienation of periods of the high prices of period supplies, only those with privileged backgrounds or social connections are lucky enough to have access to sanitary products. Sanitreee emphasises that period poverty is a health issue and society is not properly accommodating and tacking the issue. Sanitree will be having pad-making workshops around campus and further information can be found on the organisation’s Facebook page.
Although period poverty is a devastating reality for many women in the UK and overseas, these organistions offer a glimmer of hope that things are improving.
Another organisation active on campus that deals with the issues around period poverty is Sexpression. The group provides sex and relationship education in schools, including education around periods. On the Ball, a local campaign in Glasgow that is campaigning for free sanitary products in football clubs. The organisation Girlguiding has made a pledge to end period shame and tackle period poverty.
Donating period products, campaigning for awareness and governmental funding and education about periods are all important ways to make period poverty a thing of the past. A safe and clean period should not be a privilege but a right, where all girls are entitled to necessary period products.
Illustration: Stephanie Grabon