The much-needed new year has finally arrived, allowing us to move on from a dreadful 2020. We have come a long way from our situation in March even if it doesn’t feel that way at the moment, with a new vaccine being administered widely and free testing available across the country. But with all the steps we have made to improve public health, why are women and girls in the UK and around the world still suffering from period poverty?
In November, Scotland became the first country in the world to offer ‘free and universal access to menstrual products’, supplying tampons and pads in public facilities. It was announced more recently that the UK Government has finally abolished the 5% rate of value-added tax (VAT) on menstrual products, which was known as the tampon tax. The UK finance minister, Rishi Sunak stated, “sanitary products are an essential so it’s right that we do not charge VAT,” a statement which women have used for years to fight against the idea that feminine hygiene products are a luxury, not a necessity. The tampon tax faced its most crucial opposition when a Tesco in Wales came under fire in October 2020 after a woman discovered that the sanitary products aisle was blocked off due to being considered ‘non-essential’. In response to the criticism they faced, the supermarket tweeted out an explanation: “We have been told by the Welsh Government not to sell these items for the duration of the firebreak lockdown”.
Many schools are trying to overcome this issue by providing the sanitary products for free. Our own college, Notre Dame, now has boxes filled with these necessities in the girls’ bathrooms. Last year, on the day before we were forced into the first March lockdown, my old secondary school gave every girl a note excusing us from our lessons for ten minutes to provide each of us with either a pack of pads or a box of tampons, depending on our preference, in case we were unable to get hold of these products due to them not being considered a necessity or if buyers hoarded supplies.
The idea that period products are unessential and easily-affordable for everyone is wrong. No girl or woman enjoys what their body forces them to go through every month. Channel 4 investigated the situation and found that 1 in 10 teenage girls, at some point, have been unable to afford sanitary products, and that 1 in 7 have had to borrow tampons or pads from their friend because they couldn’t afford to buy their own. They also found that women aged 16 to 45 spend around £13 a month on sanitary pads, a further £8 on new underwear and £4.50 on pain relief, which on average costs £306 a year (and that’s without all the extras snacks we crave).
So how can we help? There are many ways that I have found whilst researching how to help prevent period poverty, but the one that stands out the most is to donate sanitary products to food banks or to charities, such as The Homeless Period, The Red Box Project and Freedom For Girls. There are also petitions set up currently that are asking parliament to address the issue and take steps to end period poverty, an example of this is Free Periods founded by Amika George, which advocated free period products for all children who received free meals. Their petition gained so many signatures that as of January 22nd 2020, “every state-maintained school and college in England will be able to order free period products for their students” – Change.org by Amika George, titled ‘VICTORY!!!’.
Links to the charities mentioned that are fighting against period poverty: