Period Poverty

THE PROBLEM OF PERIOD POVERTY

In 2019, there were around 14 million people in Britain living in poverty. Here at Hey Girls we know that poverty affects people in many different ways – if you’re someone who has periods every month, chances are you may experience period poverty.

Period products are a necessity, but they are expensive. Tight budgets can leave people forced to prioritise other purchases, leaving them without the right peri­od products, without enough period products, or without any period products at all. We’ve heard stories of women forced to use socks, newspaper, toilet roll, or even bread to absorb their period. Many will miss out on school or work, or struggle to concentrate fully.

The fact that period poverty affects women in the UK shocks many people. The problem is more hidden than in other countries, but that doesn’t make it less real. In 2018, Plan International UK research found that period poverty affects 1 in 10 schoolgirls across the UK. In Scotland, the number is thought to be closer to 1 in 4. More research is needed to understand exactly what is happening, but period poverty is definitely a real problem for many people.

As a society, we treat periods as very shameful – something that must be kept secret. Bleeding through your clothes is embarrassing. Buying tampons is embarrassing. Asking for tampons can be embarrassing. This can make the experience of period poverty more difficult and more isolating than other forms of poverty.

WHAT’S HAPPENING

Since 2015, campaigns to address period poverty have gained momentum, and UK governments are now stepping in to solve the problem. Since August 2018, all schools, colleges, and universities in Scotland have had funding to provide free products for all students. The Scottish Government is also supporting communities by funding free products for charities (distributed through FareShare) and providing funding for free products in all public buildings (libraries, community centres etc.).

In March 2019, the Welsh Government announced plans to fund free period products in all schools,

and in January 2020 the Department for Education in England launched its free provision. Many colleges and universities across the UK are funding free products through student union or equalities budgets.

WHY PROVIDING FREE PERIOD PRODUCTS IS IMPORTANT

Increasing access to period products is really important. Free products can keep young people in school, improve concentration, encourage participation in sport, and support good health. They prevent people having to make dehumanising choices – to wear the wrong product, or a worse quality product, or to wear a product for longer than is hygienic or safe. At Hey Girls we believe that access to period products is a right, not a privilege. No one should have to choose between bleeding on their trousers and eating lunch.

Free products not only help end period poverty, they promote equality. It is overwhelmingly women and girls who have to bear the cost for a biological process that they cannot control.

As well as supporting young people on low-incomes, free period products give peace of mind to everyone who has periods. The knowledge that products are there in case you forget them, or start unexpectedly, can be very reassuring. Providing free products ensures all people can menstruate with dignity.