I first heard the term ‘period poverty’ around three months ago, during a discussion with my course mates over lunch at our student’s union. At the time I knew nothing about ‘period poverty’ - what it was, who it affected or how many people it impacted...so I listened and learned. On the bus home from university that day, I started to look into the term, and I was shocked at what I found.
The term ‘period poverty’ refers to the inability for women to access sanitary products due to financial circumstances or limitations, and it's a problem of which too many of us are unaware. Period poverty is an issue that effects 1 in 10 women aged 14-21 in the UK.
When discussing poverty in the UK, menstruation is often forgotten as an issue, but for some women and young girls, their period can be a living nightmare. It has been reported that children as young as 10 have been forced to miss school due to their period, or use unhygienic methods of protection such as socks stuffed with tissue, old rags, dishcloths, ripped up t-shirts or even newspaper. It absolutely disgusts me that in such a developed country, there are a silent minority of women and young girls struggling to manage every month, due to a biological cycle that they can’t avoid.
It’s often difficult to comprehend period poverty as an issue in the UK, due to sanitary products being so easily accessible for the vast majority. However, the idea of having to resort to extremes such as using mattress stuffing to protect yourself when menstruating, is horrifying. What makes this problem even worse, is to know that it’s happening right here, on our doorstep, in the UK. The knowledge that in our school classrooms, lecture theatres, seminar rooms and university cafeterias, 1 in 10 of us girls are struggling as a result of period poverty appals me.
These harsh realities surrounding the struggles of many young women are completely alien and shocking to most of us. Menstruation is biological, and something that women cannot avoid. It begs the question, why should large companies benefit from women’s biology? And why are women from less advantaged backgrounds suffering due to their financial status when they can’t change their biology?
It can be very easy to argue that many brands on the market are cheap and affordable, yet it was estimated that on average a woman will spend up to £18,450 in their lifetime on sanitary products alone - equating to just under £500 per year. Is it therefore, realistic to assume that women in lower income jobs, teenagers from low income households or women living on the streets have this kind of money to spare? I doubt it.
Of course, there are alternative methods of protection available for women, such as the menstrual cup, yet this kind of knowledge and the awareness of these products comes through education and discussion, and often are an expensive investment ranging from £15-30. Very rarely do girls and young women openly discuss the variety of products available due to the stigma surrounding menstruation. No conversation, no education, just the embarrassment of the whole ordeal.
But there shouldn’t be any embarrassment. Young women shouldn’t feel as though they can’t ask for products or feel guilty when they do, due to their knowledge that it’s already hard enough for their parents to get by without the added expense. The taboo surrounding menstruation, even in today’s society, is concerning – television advertisements for sanitary products don’t even demonstrate using red liquid, they use a ‘neutral blue’…clearly using red would be far too shocking and gruesome for their audiences.
It saddens me that it’s this taboo that is at the root of the problem surrounding menstruation and the rise of period poverty in the UK. If we can’t educate our young people and make them feel comfortable in themselves, how can we possibly expect the stigma to cease? It’s ultimately down to us as a society to educate those around us, and support non-profits, such as ‘Beauty Banks’ that encourage community awareness and support to those in need by donating products to local food banks. We can help end period poverty in the UK and help those in a few different ways: donating to local food banks independently, rallying for an end to the ‘tampon tax’ to make products more affordable, and starting to discuss menstruation more openly.
Nobody should be ashamed of their biology, or suffer for it. In order to break the stigma and bring an end to period poverty, we must be the change.