Time For a Bloody Change

An introduction to period poverty and why it is still such a large problem in 2021

Artwork created by volunteer Rhianna

For some of you, your period may be nothing more than a monthly nuisance. If you’re extremely lucky, it may come around each month without much thought. For others, both in the UK and internationally, periods are made far more complicated due to the difficulties in accessibility and affordability.

For too long people menstruating around the world unable to access period products have suffered in silence. The time for raising awareness and challenging period poverty has never been more important, because as environmental campaign activist Daish said: “periods don’t stop for the pandemic”. And oh boy this is certainly true.

A recent study by Menstrual Hygiene showed that 47% of girls and women in over 160 countries have had greater difficulty accessing and affording period products because of the COVID-19. , who provide period products to refugees, asylum seekers and those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford or access them, had to supply six times their usual amount of products. We have put together all you need to know about period poverty to empower you to break the silence on periods.

WHAT IS PERIOD POVERTY?

Period poverty is an intersectional, global issue, affecting girls, women and other marginalised genders across class and race barriers. Not only does it refer to the people who do not have any access to period products at all, but also where the access is very limited. The term ‘period poverty’ is expansive as this also refers to the poverty of knowledge, understanding and support surrounding menstruation.

The spokesperson for highlights how “Menstrual justice intersects with a variety of issues including gender justice, racial justice, environmental justice and education access”. A key message to take away is that period poverty should be approached from a human rights perspective rather than limiting it to one of medical concern. Whilst it affects a diversity of people who menstruate, vulnerable groups such as women in refugee, homeless shelters and in low-income employment are most likely to be in period poverty.

Campaigners, charities and activists want to open up conversations of periods to eradicate the shame and stigma towards a championing of period empowerment. The understanding of period poverty has been widened from a ‘woman’s thing’ to a ‘biological thing’ as some cisgender women may not have periods due to menopause, stress, disease or medical conditions. Furthermore, people who menstruate who aren’t only cisgender women, they also might be trans men, intersex, genderqueer, or non-binary people.

WHY SHOULD WE CARE?

It’s 2021. It can’t still be happening, right?

It can. Research shows that the average person spends £1564.67 on pads and tampons in their lifetime, it is unsurprising this is too much for some. When conflated with the issue of tampon tax as part of the social inequality within a capitalist system, period products become even more inaccessible. Not only does menstruation take a material and financial toll of people, but there’s a detrimental social and material/emotional impact inflicted:

EDUCATION: According to Plan International UK, finding 20% of girls in India leaving school after they get their first period. Similarly, Action Aid found this was 1 in 10 girls/ women in Africa. Missing days of school can lead to girls dropping out altogether, put at greater risk of child marriage, getting pregnant and the equal opportunity having an education brings.

HEALTH: Having little or no access to period products can result in unhygienic practices such as toxic shock syndrome, reproductive issues or infections.

DIGNITY: People’s dignity is affected as menstrual rituals and hygiene practices are seen as dirty, unfeminine and unhygienic. The patriarchal norms in society has meant period stigma and shame are so deeply entrenched, with some people resorting to using cloths, strips, socks etc due to the shame of buying or asking for period products.

Our attitudes need to change around periods. This is not simply a woman’s issue, but it also requires boys and men to get involved to remove the shame associated with periods. For example, have kick started a nationwide campaign #PadsForDads to encourage dads to feel more confident talking with their daughters about periods. If half of the population are ignoring the conservation, the government will continue to dismiss it and its detrimental impact.

WHAT IS THE SITUATION IN THE UK?

Period poverty has been given light in the UK after research from finding 1 in 10 girls in the UK struggle to afford period products. More recently, Surrey became the first council in England to provide free period products in a life changing new scheme with free period products available from public buildings and offices. Here’s hoping other councils follow suit.

According to Hey Girls, from 2020 the Welsh government has committed to a 3.3 million period poverty fund to share among schools/colleges, with the aim of promoting period dignity and tackling Period poverty in local authorities and in schools. While this is arguably a step in the right direction, there’s still a long way to go as schools need to opt into the roll out scheme to access the period products, yet many are not aware of this. Also, with more needing to be done for girls not in school and for those in higher education.

Amongst these challenges, a monumental change in the fight against period poverty landed on November 24th 2020, with Scotland becoming the first country in the world to provide free access to period products. This came after four years of hard work by Labour leader Monica Lennon with the help of campaigning from grassroot networks.

A small win, in the global fight to end period poverty.

WHAT IS BEING DONE TO CHANGE THIS?

Tired of waiting, activists such as successfully launched the #FreePeriods campaign for free period products in UK schools in 2017 which successfully urged the government to agree in taking action against this. With periods not stopping for pandemics, continues to fight this through their launch of the online campaign #PeriodsInAPandemic, encouraging everyone to come forward with their honest and awkward experiences of how their periods have been impacted by lockdown.

Supermarkets are also helping fight the problem, with Morrison’s launching ‘Ask for Sandy’ in selected stores to receive free period products. This has been met with praise from customers and has been so well received on social media, showing how much this change is needed.

In light of Menstrual Hygiene Day last week, Bloody Good Period has created an uplifting and empowering new campaign aiming to spark conversations around the stigma. If you fancy a groove whilst helping to tackle period shame, check out their advertisement ‘Typically: No Shame Here’ which remixes CeCe Peniston’s old school classic Finally. Banger.

Other organisations such as PERIOD, The Menstrual Movement, Myna Mahila Foundation and Tax-Free Period have also launched campaigns which individually address the complexities around period poverty such as the stigma, policy approaches and its cultural impact.

We’re still leaps and bounds away from seeing the end of period poverty, but in the meantime, keeping the conversation flowing (pun intended) around periods and period poverty is so important for challenging the shame many women have been subject to for decades. It’s only by taking back control of the narrative of menstruation, that we can take back control of our bodies. Period.

Check out our next blog ‘8 ways you can help fight period poverty and show you care’ for the next steps!