The stigma surrounding period poverty is one which remains within our society as many struggle to fathom the impact it has on young girls and woman globally.
Reaching for newspapers and old socks rather than sanitary pads or tampons is the ‘norm’ for many facing period poverty and the problem is getting increasingly worse.
According to the charity Free Periods, it’s estimated the average individual will spend over £18,000 on menstrual products in their lifetime with 1 in 10 girls not being able to afford them according to Plan International UK.
Dr Eleanor Wilson, FY1 at Monklands Hospital said in order to tackle period poverty the first step is to “dispel this stigma” by simply raising awareness.
“I raised the issue of period poverty within the BMA at the 2018 Medical Students’ Conference in the form of a motion which called, first for free provision of period products to all hospital inpatients, and second for universal free provision of period products across the board.
“The motion passed and was escalated to the Annual Representatives Meeting later that year where it was adopted as BMA policy. They subsequently commenced research into the state of period product provision in hospitals across the UK and found no Trust or Health Board had any firm policy in this area, and provision was patchy and routinely relied on patients self-sourcing period products.
“The results of this research were released to the media and the BMA engaged in discussions with NHS England and Wales. They later announced that from July 2019 onwards, sanitary products would be provided freely across all Trusts to all hospital inpatients.”
With many unaware of why period poverty exists when sanitary products can be purchased for as little as 70p, it’s worth noting some factors which are often overlooked. This includes the price of:
- Over-the-counter pain medication
- Travel costs to and from the doctors should there be any issues
- Surgey (e.g. fibroids, endometriosis)
- Replacing blood-stained clothing and bedsheets.
- We also can’t exclude the homeless who have no way of cleaning themselves – stripping away their dignity and leaving them in an immoral situation.
Whilst supermarkets such as Tesco and Morrisons have scrapped the taxation on menstrual products, others still implement this controversial tax making it harder for those less fortunate to budget them into their weekly shopping.
In recent years companies have actively campaigned for the eradication of period poverty with Scotland becoming the first country to provide free products to all university students – a £5.2 million policy which will help almost half a million students.
In an attempt to tackle this growing issue, a representative of BodyForm said:
“We are currently working with charity ‘In Kind Direct’ who help us distribute 100,000 pads per month to registered charities, community projects, social enterprises and non-profit organisations. We also donate to a number of local women’s charities whose primary focus is the provision of free products to homeless women and women in need.
“In addition to our own work helping to tackle period poverty, in the UK, we welcomed the Government’s announcement in the Spring Budget that they will be providing free menstrual products to all schools and colleges in the UK from January 2020.
“This will ensure that no student has to miss out on their education due to lack of access to these products which will go a long way towards tackling period poverty.”
A survey of more than 1,000 girls conducted by Plan International UK found that 49% of those surveyed had missed an entire day of school due to their period whilst 82% admitted to hiding their sanitary products due to embarrassment. With the feeling still being common amongst young girls, Eleanor said:
“I believe it’s the role of schools to ensure their students can complete their school days with comfort and dignity – the provision of period products within schools is a vital part of this. It does however need to be done in a tactful manner so as to protect the privacy of these students.
“I feel the best way to do this would be having baskets or free machines in all-female and gender-neutral toilets to normalise menstruation and reduce any barriers to accessing the products. Period products in schools should not only be available to those who ask, as unfortunately the subject can be embarrassing to discuss, particularly among adolescents.
“Universal free provision of sanitary products is not just about eradicating period poverty but changing our collective attitude towards menstruation.
“Period products should be available to anyone who requires them, regardless of gender, income or background, and only a universal system could echo this – the solution to the question of period poverty must be one which unites us, not divides us.
“Until a definitive solution is reached through parliament, I think it is the duty of organisations, companies and restaurants to start providing period products of their own accord, as a show of support for the cause and respect for their employees, visitors and customers.”
For over a decade, the C-card scheme has provided free condoms and advice to those aged between 13 – 24 with the aim to promote safe sex and help young people access local services. Then in 2017, Monica Lennon MSP put forward a motion for a draft proposal for a Bill to ensure free access to sanitary products in schools, colleges and universities.
According to the proposed Member’s Bill, many believed a similar card-based scheme would deter woman suggesting it may act as a potential “barrier preventing those who need products from accessing them.”
In response to the scheme, Eleanor said:
“I believe the scheme is an excellent example of best practice in the provision of a product essential to the health and wellbeing of our population. In the same way that cost should not be a barrier to safe sex, it should not be a barrier to comfortable and hygienic menstruation.
“The scheme has proved cost-effective and has proven that such a system does not replace the sale of the products in shops and pharmacies, but serves as a safety net.
“Those who are willing and able to buy their own condoms do so, and those who don’t have another option available to them – I believe this would be the case if sanitary products were provided free universally.”
Taking everything into consideration, it’s evident a system must be put in place in order to provide for those who can’t, allowing women to have their periods in a dignified manner without the need to feel ashamed of them or their situation.
By simply providing tampons and pads to those in need will help dispel the stigma surrounding periods with the aim of period poverty eradication.
If we’re not willing to talk about it openly and break the stigma, how can we expect people to seek help?