When the problem of period poverty was first described to me I was pretty incredulous. I honestly couldn’t believe that in Britain today, girls were missing school because they couldn’t afford sanitary protection. I was a teacher. I’m a woman. Surely I’d know? I was also naïve and ignorant.
Period poverty is, of course, really just poverty. And it exists in Britain today. The Trussell Trust, who runs a network of food banks in the UK, says it gave out a record 1.3 million food parcels between March 2017 – April 2018, which was up 13% on 2016-17. If you can’t afford food, the chances are you’re also going to find it hard to buy sanitary products. But period poverty is a special kind of poverty. It’s hidden under years of cultural taboos that mean that women find it hard to talk openly about their periods, and find it even harder to ask for help. It’s complicated. It shouldn’t be. No one should miss out on their education because they have their period.
Recent statistics show that it is happening, though. In 2017 Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour broadcast a piece about girls missing school in the UK because they couldn’t afford sanitary products. Plan UK recently reported that 40% of girls in the UK have used toilet roll because they couldn’t afford sanitary wear. They also state that 27% of girls in the UK have overused a sanitary product because they couldn’t afford a fresh one. Teachers up and down the country are reporting having to buy sanitary pads for students, using their own money, because students can’t afford it. This is here, in the UK, today.
So why should you care? Honestly, if there was ever a cause to unite the sisterhood, it should be this. Women have been fed the lie for years that periods are fine, just normal, something to be ignored, gotten on with. Got your period? No worries! Wear a tampon and you can still go horse riding in white jodhpurs! Day 2 discomfort? You won’t even notice with this super product. Quick! Grab your roller skates!
But any woman who’s ever had a period knows the dread. And we dread it for bloody good reason. At best it’s uncomfortable, at worst it’s agony. It’s never pleasant. It’s always a bit awkward, an extra thing to think about, a bit of a pain in the crotch. It hits your holidays, your nights out, your date nights, usually with exquisite timing. But now imagine this. Feeling like you do every time you realise you’re due on, and then realising that you don’t have the money for pads. That you’re going to have to rely on toilet roll again. Or socks. Or tissues. You know they won’t work at night so you’ll be up in the morning scrubbing the bed sheets and you’ll spend a week with your jumper tied around your waist, hoping no one notices the leaks or thinks it’s odd you’ve got your hoodie with you when it’s 25 degrees. Now imagine being 14. Imagine getting invited to a sleepover. Imagine having to go swimming with school. Imagine having an exam. Imagine getting called up to the front of the class. Feeling anxious yet?
It isn’t fair that an increasing number of children and young people are living in poverty. But period poverty is a double whammy for children already in difficult circumstances and then, ah, yes, ovaries. Sorry about that. Quite simply, it’s a matter of equality. Everyone deserves an equal chance at an education, boy or girl. But a girl who doesn’t have adequate protection is more likely to miss school, to miss out on her education, potentially a week every single month of secondary school. So she doesn’t do as well in her exams. And that affects the rest of her life. It can damage friendships, confidence and health. It’s just not right and it’s not fair.
Period poverty matters because girls matter and because women matter. And that’s why, as women, I believe we really have to do something.
So what can we do?
The Red Box Project
The organisation I got involved with is called the Red Box Project. It’s a super simple one: we take donations of sanitary products from communities, put them into schools and then girls can take whatever they need for their period, for free. No questions asked. Since it launched just over a year ago, the project has put over 300 boxes into schools and other youth centres. You can find out more about how to help them by volunteering or donating at http://redboxproject.org/
Amika George is an incredible and inspiring 18 year old on a mission. She’s fighting the political battle, pointing out the inequalities and unfairness surrounding menstruation in our society and challenging the government to tackle the problem of period poverty. You can support her by writing to your MP, going to one of her demos or signing her petition.
Buy Hey Girls products
Hey Girls are a brilliant, ethical sanitary product company who produce chlorine and bleach free, environmentally friendly products AND give away a pack of sanitary pads for every pack someone buys. It’s so so simple. You can buy from them here https://www.heygirls.co.uk/
Or subscribe to Freda
A Freda subscription delivers natural, organic sanitary products to you every month. They also donate a proportion of their profits to organisations including the Red Box Project. https://myfreda.com/
(As you’ve probably worked out by now, period poverty is a massive issue. I’ve concentrated on how you can support young women here, but there’s also some incredible work being done with refugees and asylum seekers by Bloody Good Period and the Trussell Trust distribute sanitary products to women and families through their incredible food bank network. Both very much worthy of donations too.)