I travel a lot and I frequently have to nip into the loo at service stations. If you’ve been into them in the last few years, you may have seen adverts on the back of the doors raising money for charities who provide sanitary packs to teenagers in third world countries, also known as those living in period poverty. I’ve donated myself to charities like Freedom4Girls, by texting the number, because it’s one of the basic things that I’ve always taken for granted. When I found out that this isn’t just a problem in third world countries, but that girls in the UK are struggling to afford sanitary items and suffer from period poverty, I was really shocked, upset and honestly, really distressed that these girls don’t have something that’s such a basic need.
In December 2017, Plan International released some shocking statistics. One in ten girls (10%) aged 14-21 in the UK have been unable to afford a sanitary product at some stage whilst 1 in 7 struggle with affording the cost. It showed that girls are regularly having to ask to borrow sanitary wear from friends and many are having to improvise with home-made solutions. Imagine the shame and embarrassment of a 12 year old girl who is on her period having to go to school with toilet tissue instead of a sanitary product, or having to go to their teacher and tell them they need help with their periods because they’re too poor to buy a pack of sanitary towels. In fact, it can put girls behind (and those on or below the poverty line already struggle with school and resources) because if faced with having to go to school on your period without adequate protection, a lot of them will simply stay home and miss school. Period poverty goes hand in hand with all the other problems that stem from simply not having enough money to live.
This is 21st century Britain folks.
Women don’t choose to have periods. They are a basic, biological function and families should haven’t to feel like they have to make a decision between buying a sanitary product or putting food on the table. Yet that is a choice that some women have to make and it’s been dubbed “period poverty”. This is a real thing that’s happening to one in 10 girls and it likely means the whole family is struggling.
Today I read in the news that some councils in Wales are taking action against period poverty and that Rhondda Cynon Taf could become the first council to provide free sanitary products to all schools in the area. My thoughts were conflicted. It’s fantastic that progress is being made, but I’m still in shock from the fact that this is an area that so desperately needs to move forward. Councillor Elyn Stephens (Plaid Cymru) for Rhondda Cynon Taf said “No girl should have to go without sanitary products and suffer in silence and embarrassment. They won’t have to in Rhondda Cynon Taf if the Cabinet rubber stamp this policy as expected. I hope other local authorities across Wales now follow suit.” The hope is for this to be implemented as early as September 2018.
But for many girls, progress simply isn’t coming fast enough. Mental health, relationships and education can all suffer because of period poverty. Wherever you are in Wales, England or Scotland – you could write to your local MP or Councillor and ask them to support our children in need by providing sanitary towels to those who can’t afford to buy their own. Only 32% of MP’s are women, and that drops down to 21% for the Conservatives (Election statistics, 2017), who are currently in charge. This is a record high, and that’s something to be happy about – but it does mean that women’s issues aren’t always understood or given equal weight and it takes strong women to push these issues into the light. Add to that we’re talking about menstruation here, something that a lot of men aren’t that comfortable discussing.
So what can we do? We can discuss period poverty and make sure it’s not an issue that sits in the dark, ignored.
Is it enough?
No. It’s not enough. This is a good step forward for Wales – but the whole UK needs to sit up and take note and address the issue of period poverty. Why are families in a country like ours struggling over something so basic? I’m not a political writer and I’m not going to veer off into a tangent on my thoughts on the current government, budget, schools or NHS, but I will say it is not enough. Charities should not have to be raising money to provide free sanitary towels but those that do should be well supported. Schools should not have to be choosing between educational resources or basic medical provisions, so the local council’s need to find space in their budget. Ultimately, the government needs to be held responsible and we need to look at why the poverty levels in the United Kingdom are so high to begin with.
But the world doesn’t change unless people change it and that means regular people like you and me stepping up and doing what we can to force the world to move forward.
Here’s what we can do about it:
- Talk to your peers, both men and women
- Talk to your local MPs for all political parties, including men
- Take an interest in politics. Vote both locally and nationally for parties that support issues you feel strongly about.
- Talk to our children about the importance of being educated and aware of issues like these and to always use their vote and let their voice be heard.
- Support charities and organizations such as Trussel Trust and The Homeless Period.
- Donate sanitary supplies to homeless shelters and food banks that will distribute them.
- Share this post, blog articles, charity updates, news stories – and anything else you read about it – and keep people talking.
- Use social media tags to keep the discussion going, such as #FreePeriods #PeriodPoverty
We need to keep talking about this to end the shame, social stigma and embarassment of something that is a basic, natural and biological function. According to Plan International, 48% of girls aged 14-21 are embarrassed about their period, and 71% are embarrassed about buying sanitary products.
Periods should not go hand in hand with shame or stigma, whatever the situation.