So many of us have experienced it: you could be in class, at work, out with friends, on a date, alone. That panicked rush to the nearest bathroom and the sensation of your stomach dropping to the floor when you see that you have left your emergency supply behind. For some of us it’s a frustrating blip in the day, but a quick trip to a shop and crisis is averted. However, it can mark the beginning of up to a week of mortification, crippling anxiety, and isolation - Period Poverty is a thing, and it’s about time we started talking about it.
‘Period Poverty’ as it has been popularised is essentially the state people find themselves in when they are unable to afford the products they need while menstruating. Bloody Good Period, a British charity who donate sanitary supplies to food banks and drop in centres around the UK, estimate that over a lifetime, the average woman will fork out £4800 on period supplies. Given we can have well above 400 periods over the course of our lives, whether it’s being spent on pads or paracetamol, up to £15 is coming out of our pockets each month for something we have zero control over. In the grand scheme of things £15 may appear insignificant, but when you’re trying to juggle monthly expenses, every pound adds up.
This time last year, Plan International carried out a survey of 1000 girls in the UK aged between 14 and 21 and found that 1 in 10 girls had to forgo buying sanitary products because they couldn’t afford it, and of those who could, 1 in 5 had to resort to using a less suitable product due to costs. It is important that people understand the implications of not having what you need when you’re menstruating; it’s a great deal more than just the embarrassment of someone catching a glimpse of bloodstained jeans. Periods are so much more than a bit of blood each month and going without the supplies you need has profound impact on hygiene, health, education, and personal wellbeing. All too many people with periods are having to skip class, get time off work, and suffer without painkillers as a consequence. Slowly though, society is beginning to recognise the physical, emotional, and financial toll of menstruation and steps are being taken to eliminate the stigma and expense.
Back in August, the Scottish government announced that they would be starting up a scheme worth over £5 million in aid of period poverty, particularly for those at school and further education who are recognised as being one of the most highly affected groups. Our own university, in fact, at the beginning of this year started up collection points around the various campuses where free products can be taken for anyone who needs them. Taking action like this is hugely important in reducing the way in which period poverty has an effect on us as students, alleviating the stress of having to cut money for food back in order to pay for sanitary supplies. On a more national level, an amendment on the ‘tampon tax’ was proposed by Labour MP Paula Sherriff and accepted by parliament in 2016, but progress has been relatively slow. While there might have been money earned by the ‘tampon tax’ set aside last year to donate to women’s charities, there is still this sense of luxury which surrounds the ability to access sanitary supplies easily. As perfectly put by Laura Coryton, campaigner and founder of organisation Stop Taxing Periods, ‘Periods are no luxury. You can ‘opt-in’ to extravagance. You cannot choose to menstruate.’ There has been a great deal of emphasis upon changing prices and lifting taxes and while I agree that such things are incredibly important, solving the problem must also involve education and awareness.
Frankly, as with most issues, conversation brings about change. Once we recognise a problem does indeed exist, we can begin to move forwards in solving it. Slowly but surely, the taboo and stigma surrounding periods is being broken down. It is ludicrous that something so biologically natural is surrounded by so much shame. Seeing people in the media talking about periods in the public eye is hugely beneficial to solving the issues. Young people are looking to Danielle Rowley, the Scottish Labour MP for my local constituency, Jennifer Lawrence, award-winning American actress, Colleen Ballinger, internet and YouTube star better known for her alter-ego Miranda Sings, and finally model Gigi Hadid - all of whom have spoken openly about their periods. Teaching the new generation that they need not be silenced about their periods is integral in bringing about change on a grander scale.
Provision of free sanitary products in schools, universities and libraries is brilliant as a first major step forwards in beating period poverty, and it is clear the rest of the world need follow Scotland’s example. Further, the ongoing debate around abolishing the tax put onto sanitary supplies will be another huge step forward. While period poverty may be a bloody disgrace, spreading awareness and working together to create change is paramount to ensuring that all people with periods can access the products they need.*Illustration by Bee Anderson (@beeillustrates)*