Why is period poverty still happening?

Written by Sophie Holbourne

In this modern society, while we have developed in so many fantastic ways, girls across the country are still faced with uncertainty with regards to affording basic menstrual products.

When researching this topic, I came across a survey conducted by Plan International UK. Their findings utterly shocked me! They found that 49% of girls have missed an entire day of school because they cannot afford menstrual products, of which 59% have made up an excuse in order to conceal the fact they were on their period. One in ten girls is unable to afford menstrual wear. But what is by far the most shocking is that 48% of girls aged 14-21 in the UK are embarrassed about their periods and by buying menstrual products. Periods are a naturally occurring process that happens to the majority of women across the world. We aren’t embarrassed by our ability to breathe, so why should there be a stigma attached to a process that is just as natural as breathing? The stigma surrounding periods has been shown to directly affect a girl’s potential to succeed. If a girl misses two days of school every time she has her period, she is set to miss approximately 145 days over her fellow male students.

With regards to period poverty, the prices of sanitary products are very high. The average woman spends about £13 every month on managing her menstruation, which includes pads, tampons and pain relief. This adds up to £18,000 in a women’s life. For some, £13 a month doesn’t sound like a huge amount. However, some women don’t have £13 to spare for basic necessities like food. This is not acceptable! Further to this, if the average age for a girls period to begin is 12 to 13, it is their parents who have to buy their sanitary products in those initial few years. For mothers, not only are they having to buy their own products, they have to buy their daughters as well.

The issue of period poverty is being dealt with by a range of amazing charities, like the Red Box Project and The Trussell Trust. However, charities always need support from good people around the country. The Red Box Project place red boxes in and around schools or even places where a lot of girls go - including at the Wellies and Wristbands campsite this year! They encourage schools to have red boxes for those who cannot afford sanitary products. Given that one in ten girls cannot afford sanitary products and considering schools can be very large, there are bound to be girls who would benefit in every school. If you are interested in putting a red box within your community, find out more here.

Within government, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have all pledged to address period poverty. This is really positive as it means the government is aware of the monthly struggle women face. However, 70% of MP’s are male. How can a government really empathise with period poverty when the majority of its MP’s have not experienced it? Furthermore, the party currently in power, the Conservatives, have not pledged to address the issue.

However, in June 2018, MP Danielle Rowley shocked the House of Commons when she announced that she was on her period while calling on ministers to help women who struggle with period poverty.

I would like to raise with you today and to the House, and perhaps you'll excuse me for my lateness, that today I'm on my period - and it's cost me this week already £25.

— Danielle Rowley MP

With the rise of period poverty within the UK, it is shocking that companies still find it acceptable to place a tax on menstrual products. Tampons and towels are currently taxed at 5 per. This is because they are considered a "luxury". The definition of luxury is "a state of great comfort" - periods are far from comfortable. Menstrual products are not a luxury, they are a necessity for a woman to be able to live her daily life in a safe, convenient and dignified way. In August 2017, Tesco became the first British supermarket to effectively scrap the tampon tax by covering the 5 per cent VAT itself. Waitrose and Morrisons followed suit.

Period poverty is a pressing issue in our society and needs to be dealt with. Girlguiding has their own period poverty badge for you take part in with your unit: you can find it here.

Have you done anything to combat period poverty in your area? Perhaps this blog will inspire you to Take Action, which is one of the themes in the new programme! Whatever you've got to say about period poverty, we'd love to hear it on Facebook or Instagram.

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