You’re 15 years old and about to get your period. No problem.
Well, that may be true if you and your family are fortunate enough to afford sanitary products. However, for many girls and women living in the UK – yes, the UK – period poverty is a real problem.
‘Period poverty’ refers to a lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints. I recall a harrowing scene from the movie I Daniel Blake, where a struggling single mother is caught stealing sanitary products.
But, this issue is not fiction. It’s very real.
The state of Period Poverty in the UK
According to a study of 1,000 girls and young women by charity, Plan International UK (2017):
- 1 in 10 girls (10 per cent) have been unable to afford sanitary wear
- 1 in 7 girls (15 per cent) have struggled to afford sanitary wear
- 1 in 7 girls (14 per cent) have had to ask to borrow sanitary wear from a friend due to affordability issues
- More than 1 in 10 girls (12 per cent) has had to improvise sanitary wear due to affordability issues
- 1 in 5 (19%) of girls have changed to a less suitable sanitary product due to cost
To put this into perspective, the average women has her period for 2,535 days of her life – that’s nearly 7 years’ worth of sanitary products. Typically, sanitary products cost women around £500 per year. Over a lifetime, we are talking about a cost of £3,500 upwards.
Without access to sanitary products, many girls are forced to improvise. In an interview with the BBC, one girl explains how she tried to overcome the issue:
"I wrapped a sock around my underwear just to stop the bleeding, because I didn't want to get shouted at. And I wrapped a whole tissue roll around my underwear, just to keep my underwear dry until I got home. I once Sellotaped tissue to my underwear. I didn't know what else to do”.
As a consequence, thousands of girls are missing school on a regular basis because they can’t afford sanitary protection. Around 137,700 girls are estimated to have missed school last year as a result of period poverty.
Furthermore, research conducted in 2018 by sanitary brand Always, suggests over half of women who have experienced period poverty believe it has had a direct effect on their success, confidence and happiness. Always also found that women who have experienced period poverty are much more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, struggle to pay their bills and have an unfulfilling love life.
So, what is being done?
In March 2018, the Welsh Government announced a £1million fund to help tackle period poverty.
A Scottish Government pilot project was also launched last year to provide towels and tampons to those who need them through an Aberdeen food bank.
However, last month, the Department for Education announced that is not prepared to support period poverty and has refused to provide free sanitary products to schools. This means that schools will have to use their already depleted budgets if they want to provide pupils with tampons and towels.
How you can help
While we may not have the much needed support from the UK Government, there are some amazing people working incredibly hard to overcome period poverty in the UK. Here are just a few ways you can get involved and support them:
- Bloody Good Period collects period supplies and toiletries for asylum seekers, refugees and those who can't afford them
- You can donate money or tampons to the Homeless Period who provide homeless women with sanitary products
- You can donate to The Red Box Project who provide free tampons and towels to schools across the UK
- Manchester-based The Monthly Gift is a campaign increasing donations of sanitary products to charities helping the homeless and those in poverty
- For every purchase of ALWAYS Ultra made before the 16th of September 2018, Always will donate a pad directly to the UK schools in most need
- Food banks like the Trussell Trust also accept towels and tampons
It is time we put a stop to period poverty because everyone deserves to have a bloody good period.