It’s a heartbreaking reality that one in 10 girls are unable to afford sanitary items here in the UK. Some young women are forced to use old clothes, toilet paper and newspapers as alternative solutions to sanitary products, while others have to rely on friends and foodbanks for handouts.
Scotland has made small steps towards tackling the issue of period poverty by offering sanitary pads and tampons for free to women and girls from low income households in Aberdeen. The Scottish Government said the six-month pilot scheme will inform future policies on the issue. The rest of the UK, however, has seen no such initiative.
Towards the end of 2017, the Labour government announced that should it get into power, it would end period poverty by providing free sanitary products in schools, foodbanks and homeless shelters. When later asked whether the Conservative government would match such a commitment, the Department for Education said schools can use their funding to buy sanitary products for pupils.
The problem of period poverty isn’t going away on its own, which is why activists, charities and celebrities have urged the British public to help. Here’s how you can drive change.
1. Donate to relevant organisations
Speaking to HuffPost UK Amika George, a teenage activist campaigning for free menstrual products for schoolgirls from low-income families, suggested donating money to a variety of organisations including: Bloody Good Period, which gives menstrual supplies to asylum seekers, refugees and those who can’t afford them; the Red Box Project, which provides free sanitary items for young women in schools and The Homeless Period, which raises awareness of the plight of homeless women who can’t access period products.
You can also donate money to your local foodbank. Abby Jitendra, senior policy officer for the Trussell Trust, told HuffPost UK that people often don’t realise they can offer monetary donations to foodbanks. To donate, click here.
2. Buy extra pads and tampons
If you’re out at a supermarket, or doing an online shop, why not buy some extra pads and donate them to a foodbank, Amika said. To find your nearest foodbank, click here. Additionally some supermarkets have boxes near the checkouts for donated goods, which could save you a trip.
3. Use social media
Alesha Dixon is encouraging people to share a throwback picture on social media including the hashtag #EndPeriodPoverty and tagging @Always. The brand will then donate a pad to a school girl in need.
“We were all school children once, and even if you haven’t experienced period poverty yourself, you can put yourself into the shoes of young school girls who are affected,” she wrote in a blog post on HuffPost UK. “These pads will go to the schools in most need so when girls do speak up and ask for help, teachers can provide.”
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4. Host brunch
On 10 March, The Wee Guy’s café in Glasgow hosted a ‘Bloody Big Brunch’ in collaboration with creative agency WIRE, where people paid for Bloody Marys with a box of tampons or pads. These were then donated to The Trussell Trust.
The brunch event will tour the rest of the UK throughout the year. If you’re unable to attend you can host your own at home: simply invite your mates over and ask them to donate products online here. Then spread the word and post your pictures using #bloodybigbrunch.
5. Educate the next generation
A spokesperson for the Women’s Equality Party said schools should teach all young people – including boys – the biological facts about periods before they reach puberty, which “would help to remove the stigma around periods”.
Parents can play a part too by kickstarting the learning process at home. It’s a crucial conversation to have as it can help prevent girls from thinking it’s a “taboo” topic and feeling ashamed, and it can help boys to be more understanding. A 2017 survey by Bodyform revealed 52% of girls would rather be bullied at school than discuss periods with their parents - so we’ve still got some way to go. (Want to know more? Read these tips for talking to kids about periods.)
6. Sign petitions
One petition launched by Amika George calls on free menstrual products for all children entitled to free school meals. It has gained over 150,000 signatures. Another, with 78,000 signatures, calls on Procter & Gamble, the company behind Always and Tampax products, to donate a proportion of their products to homeless shelters.
7. Write to your MP
In a piece for Vogue UK, model Adwoa Aboah urged members of the public to “demand direct action for those who are suffering from period poverty”. Her steps for taking action include writing to your local MP calling for change. If you write a letter make sure you: voice your concerns about period poverty and call on them to take action.
Amika said the long-term solution is for the government to put in place a way for all women to be able to access free menstrual products without any shame or embarrassment. “They should be freely available to whoever needs them,” she said. “This includes distribution in schools, colleges, foodbanks and homeless shelters.” In the short-term, she wants them to offer free sanitary products to those most in need.