The real price of periods
The shocking reason some girls are skipping school
Four in 10 teachers have resorted to supplying students with their own tampons and pads.
Sanitary products are essential for most women when they reach a certain age.
We have a stash in our bathroom, emergency supplies in our handbags.
Being caught short is unthinkable.
But for many, it’s a sad reality.
Because for girls and women up and down the country, sanitary protection is a luxury they can’t afford.
So-called ‘period poverty’ sounds like something from the distant past.
But it’s hit the headlines recently after research revealed that 137,700 girls missed school last year because they couldn’t afford sanitary products.
The research also found that six per cent of parents have been so desperate to prevent their daughters suffering the humiliation of not having sanitary products, that they’ve resorted to shoplifting. And 20 per cent of parents are going without other essential items in order to buy their daughters sanitary products. While the causes of poverty are complex, many believe a simple solution to the issue of period poverty is ending the tampon tax. At present, five per cent VAT is charged on all sanitary products as they are deemed to be ‘ luxury nonessential’ items. Non-essential? Tell that to the seven per cent of teenagers the research found to be missing on average five days of school a year due to their inability to afford these so-called luxuries. Campaigners argue sanitary products are essential, and want the tax abolished. More than 320,000 signed a petition calling on the Government to scrap the tax in 2015.
In August 2017, Tesco scrapped the VAT charge, paying the five per cent themselves – the first British supermarket to do so – shortly followed by Waitrose.
A few organisations are campaigning and providing free sanitary protection to young girls.
The charity Freedom 4 Girls started by providing free sanitary protection for girls in Kenya, only to find the same issue happening here.
It now provides sanitary products to 30 schools, primarily in West Yorkshire.
‘We’ve met women and girls who use all sorts to relieve the issue – T-shirts, toilet roll, even insoles of their shoes,’ says Victoria Abrahams, volunteer trustee from Freedom 4 Girls.
‘Women and girls can’t help the fact they have periods, and periods shouldn’t be seen as something that can be commodified where sanitary products are luxury items.’
The Red Box Project, a community organisation that launched in March 2017, also distributes 626 boxes of sanitary products to schools across the UK.
They’re currently working with Always, which is donating one sanitary towel to those in
11% of girls admit to wearing sanitary protection longer than for they should in order to save money, despite it risking their health.
need, for every pack bought.
A study by Always also showed that over half of women who have experienced period poverty believe it has had a direct effect on their success, confidence and happiness as an adult.
Anna Miles, Founder of The Red Box Project, says, ‘We hear from many women that suffering from period poverty at school can have a huge knock-on effect later in life.
‘They remember the fear, embarrassment and shame they felt, and this can have a real impact on them.’
But education about the issue is also important, so young girls don’t feel embarrassed about having a period.
It’s A Monthly Thing, offers workshops to schools to educate both boys and girls about periods – helping pupils to understand the physical and emotional changes that happen during the menstrual cycle.
‘As well as donating 50,000 sanitary items to schools, we’re also offering a new service as part of our subscription box services whereby users can return unwanted, unused period products to us and we’ll reissue them to vulnerable people in need. These go to homeless women, girls in schools and to women in prison,’ says Claire Blackmore, from It’s A Monthly Thing.
Such good work – but there’s still more that could be done...
The Red Box project would love to see permanent and freely accessible sanitary boxes in every primary and secondary school setting, which pupils can then use at any time – no questions asked.
Danielle Rowley, MP for Midlothian, made history earlier this year for declaring she was on her period in the House of Commons during a debate on period poverty. She said, ‘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.’
For many, periods remain an embarrassing and taboo subject.
But the issue of period poverty is too serious for us to ignore.
The Red Box Project gives products to schools
MP Danielle Rowley