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Period poverty and the pandemic

 

Lets start by playing a game of true or false. In the UK...

1 in 10 people who have periods can't afford period products.

1 in 7 have had some financial struggle around period products during their life.

49% of people who have periods have missed an entire day of education because of their period.

Between the ages of 13-21, 50% of people who have a period are embarrassed or ashamed by it.

68% said they felt more distracted in class when on their period.

40% have substituted in toilet roll because they didn't have access to period products.

 

You might have to forgive us because we cheated slightly. In fact, every single one of these statistics is TRUE.

In the UK, 137,700 students miss school every year because of their period. These statistics were obtained in 2017 when Plan International conducted a national study on period poverty in the UK. When we think of period poverty, quite often we think of the global issue (which I will be covering in another article), but right here, at home, in the UK, so many people struggle to afford period products and this has an impact on their education, self-confidence and mental health.

Period poverty in the UK is rarely discussed, and when it is, people are usually blanketed as raging feminists or dismissed because someone, somewhere else in the world, has it worse.

I don't know if you have ever seen the film 'I, Daniel Blake'. It's a 2016 film directed by Warwickshire's finest, Ken Loach. The film focuses on poverty in the UK and a single parent family in Newcastle, that is reliant on the welfare system and local food banks. Daniel Blake is the main character and forms a strong friendship with a single mother and her two children and offers them support throughout.

In this film, there is a scene, where the mother is in the food bank looking for sanitary towels or tampons and the volunteer says that "people usually forget to donate period products". The volunteer goes on to say that "the public remember things like tins of beans, pasta and shampoo, but menstrual products are rarely donated". I personally believe this is due to national ignorance, because we don't automatically pair food banks and periods together.

Later on, she tried to steal some deodorant and sanitary towels from a local shop and gets caught. This sheer desperation to try and have access to, what in reality, should be basic human necessities really spoke to me. This was my first encounter with period poverty in the UK and ever since then, I have made a point of buying and donating sanitary products whenever I do my weekly shop. For most of my teenage years, I didn't have periods, because of my contraception (lucky me), so I chose to spend what I would have spent on myself, on sanitary products which I donated to the collection basket by the shop entrance.

It is no surprise that Coronavirus has hit a lot of families hard, and this means that people who used to have stable and steady incomes are now more reliant on food banks and the welfare system. According to the Office of National Statistics, 70% of households have experienced a decrease in annual income during the pandemic, with 16% more people than usual, relying on welfare or universal credit. Plan International have conducted recent studies on national period poverty and found that due to the virus, access to affordable menstrual products is becoming more and more difficult, with 3 in 10 people now struggling to afford menstrual products. This is triple the 2017 finding. 

Period poverty charities like, 'Bloody Good Period' and 'Freedom4Girls' have increased their menstrual product donations by 500%, now supplying 15,000 products collectively each month since May 2020. 

The closure of centres such as libraries and offices has made donating and anonymous collection increasingly difficult. The charities have adapted their methods to fit in with the government guidelines, but they still worry about reaching vulnerable people when the usual pathways are closed. During the pandemic, former MP Paula Sherriff, campaigner of abolishing the tampon tax, has raised concerns with the government, that the food boxes provided to vulnerable people contain toilet roll and body wash but not basic sanitary products. 

As a company, we are passionate about ending period poverty globally. We support and donate regularly to ActionAid UK, in order to help provide people with reusable period products. Reusable products are not only FANTASTIC for the environment and the reduction of plastic waste, but they are also vital for people in impoverished communities to have regular access to menstrual products. Reusable products help eliminate people's worry of where they will get next months supply of towels or tampons. Instead, people are educated on how to properly care for their reusable towel or menstrual cup as well as what hygiene measures are needed to ensure safe usage and disease prevention. In many parts of the world, periods are taboo and even here in the UK, half of people aged 13-21 are embarrassed or ashamed of their period. The fight to end period poverty also helps fight common stigmas associated with menstruation. 

Here is what you can do, as an individual, to help fight period poverty during the pandemic:

1) Leave a donation for ActionAid UK at checkout when you purchase one of our menstrual cups. We a regularly donate to this charity but your donation will help increase support for them.

2) Gift one of our menstrual cups to someone you know, who may benefit from a reusable menstrual product.

3) Donate to Freedom4Girls or Bloody Good Period via their websites:

https://www.freedom4girls.co.uk/support-period-poverty/

https://www.bloodygoodperiod.com/

4) Purchase sanitary products in your local supermarket and donate to the food bank collection basket near the tills.

5) Raise awareness on social media by sharing information about period poverty and why we need to fight to end it.

6) Talk to each other about periods. The more we talk, the less stigma and shame surrounds it and the more normalised in society it becomes. Periods are normal and natural and we should not be ashamed of them.

7) Sign these petitions to make the government recognise period poverty and review the accessibility of free menstrual products for vulnerable people in the UK

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/301356

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/301619

 

What to do if you are or someone you know is struggling to afford period products:

1) Get in touch with 'Bloody Good Period' or 'Freedom4girls' for free products and support.

2) Consider making the switch to a reusable product. This will provide you with years worth of menstrual cover and is far more economical.

3) Make the switch from branded products, like Always or Tampax, to supermarket own brands. These tend to be cheaper.

4) Body form offer a free sample of sanitary towels with extra coupons included. Whilst this is a short term solution, it might be helpful.  https://www.bodyform.co.uk/sampling/

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Footnotes:

[1] https://www.bodyform.co.uk/our-world/period-poverty/

[2] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/bulletins/coronavirusandthesocialimpactsongreatbritain/7may2020

[3] https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/period-poverty-soars-coronavirus-crisis-22058937

[4] https://www.goodtoknow.co.uk/wellbeing/health/period-poverty-uk-coronavirus-pandemic-549613