A growing concern within the UK, period poverty, has been discussed in the House of Lords and Commons. Many female activists have been campaigning to increase the accessibility of sanitary protection for some time, but with the introduction of a pilot scheme in Scotland, it would appear that progression is finally taking place.
Put quite simply, period poverty describes a state in which women and girls are unable to finance sanitary products. With a plethora of women’s rights charities, such as Freedom4Girls, there are many services within the UK which support women who cannot facilitate their own sanitation. However, these foundations are actually to provide foreign aid. Until recently, it has been widely accepted that period poverty is a hardship suffered solely by women in third world countries.
For many, the reality of period poverty within the UK was brought to light significantly this March when a school in Leeds appealed to Freedom4Girls for help with providing their girls with sanitary protection. Making the headlines, it is obvious how unaware the majority of the British public, and perhaps more significantly, authorities and officials, are.
It’s been discovered that girls from low-income families have been skipping school whilst they are on their period – purely because they can not afford sanitary products. To many, a box of tampons may just be something they shove in their basket as they’re whizzing round the supermarket. Whether you want a pack with or without applicators is probably the most thought you’ll give those little absorbent bundles. But for girls suffering period poverty, a lot of time is spent agonising over their lack of said products. Some women have taken to padding their underwear with socks and toilet paper. It has been reported that even newspaper has been resorted to.
A recent survey, which included 2,000 young women, found that 46% had missed PE due to their period. This highlights that attitudes towards menstruation within schools need to be reassessed. With almost the majority of girls admitting to having boycotted sport, it is hardly a surprise that those in period poverty are completely missing school. Quite clearly there is an unspoken anxiety that comes hand in hand with a period. With half the population menstruating, and in a world where STIs and contraception are discussed so freely, it seems almost pre historic that so many girls are suffering alone.
Since period poverty has gained publicity, the vast majority seem to be in agreement that more needs to be done to support struggling women. The most significant progress has been the recently announced pilot scheme in Scotland.
This comes a year after the Scottish Labour Inequalities Spokesperson, Monica Lennon MSP, urged the government to make a “firm commitment” to looking into the affordability of sanitary products in the hope of making them free for all women in Scotland.
The introductory scheme will be run by Community Food Initiatives North East (CFINE), a social enterprise focused on improving health and well-being for those in poverty. Dave Simmers, CFINE’s chief executive, believes the necessity of the scheme is due to the severe austerity measures in the UK.
Initially being based within women’s health and housing charities as well as four schools, the effort – backed by the government – is expected to reach at least 1,000 women and girls within regeneration areas within Aberdeen. There is a view to extend the program, should it be deemed a success.
With this pilot scheme as well as the resonant words of Justine Greening, the education secretary, stating that low-income girls (that qualify for free school meals) could be receiving free sanitary products in the near future, period poverty within the UK is finally beginning to be tackled.
Words: Steph Ryan