People often stigmatize menstruation or periods in many countries. This makes it difficult for women to seek help and speak openly about what they need. Lack of education on the subject leads to a threat to women’s well-being. As a result, conversations about period poverty arise. Period poverty is a lack of access to period products, menstrual education and facilities for managing menstruation. It affects many lives. In 2022, 3.1 million people in the U.K. were struggling with hygiene poverty.
What Does Period Poverty Mean to Women?
Apart from stigmatization, period poverty poses another endangerment for girls and women. According to data published in spring 2021, in the U.K., every second girl no-showed to class in school because of her period and every third girl had problems accessing period products after the COVID-19 pandemic started.
Skipping classes or being concerned about other things instead of studying decreases academic performance and can impact the future. When women do not have access to period products, they may use unhygienic materials like old clothing, and this can increase the risk of infections and other health problems. This can also have effects on mental health due to the stress and anxiety of not being able to afford period products. Research in 2019 reported that 27% of girls in the U.K. aged 10 to 18 skip going out for fear of menstruating. Unfortunately, this can result in anxiety and social isolation.
What is the Solution?
The United Kingdom has decided to address this problem. In 2019, the government announced steps to create a task group that includes Plan International UK, Procter and Gamble and Minister for Women and Equalities, Penny Mordaunt, to educate society and to supply free period products to schools and hospitals. Beginning in January 2021, the U.K. government abolished the so-called ‘tampon tax,’ which had imposed a 5% VAT on period products. The decision also brought the U.K. into line with other countries, such as Australia and Canada, which had already removed the tax on sanitary products.
In 2018, Scotland became the first country in the world to offer free women’s sanitary products across different levels of educational institutions. Moreso, from 2018 to 2022, the government allocated £1.86 million for women’s sanitary products for families with low income. Since 2019, the Scottish Government also committed to providing £2.8 million annually to local councils to ensure everyone gets free period products all over Scotland. As of 2021, it has implemented a free period product scheme that provides all menstrual products free of charge to anyone who needs them. Under the scheme, free period products are available in public locations, including schools, colleges, universities, community centers and libraries. Products are accessible through vending machines or free-standing dispensers. As of 2023, a special app, ‘PickupMyPeriod,’ allows an individual to track all the products online in real-time. Individuals can also order a home delivery from the local councils.
In England, the government has implemented a fully-funded, four-year period product scheme that provides free period products to primary and secondary schools, as well as colleges. The scheme has been working since January 2020. Educational institutions can order a range of period products for their students. As of January 2022, 61% of primary schools, 94% of secondary schools and 90% of post-16 organizations have ordered toiletries for their pupils. By providing free period products in schools, the government hopes to ensure that students can attend school without worrying about the cost or availability of period products.
Education Minister Michelle McIlveen decided to encourage period dignity in schools. In September 2021, she launched a three-year pilot version of a project that aims to supply menstrual products to everyone in need. The scheme covers primary, secondary and special schools as well as Education Other Than at School (EOTAS) settings. The expected cost of the program is £2.6 million.
Lidl in Northern Ireland is one of several businesses that have taken steps to address period poverty in Northern Ireland. In 2021, the company announced the Period Poverty Initiative. It provides free period products in all of its stores in Northern Ireland. Since August 2021, all customers who have a Lidl Plus account can receive a monthly coupon for free period products.
The Welsh Government’s Period Dignity Strategic Action Plan is a plan that sets out the government’s approach to addressing period poverty in Wales. The government has already implemented a free-period product scheme to ensure that individuals have access to the menstrual products they need. There are free period products in schools, public buildings and leisure and sports centers. Since 2018, the Welsh government started to allocate finances on this matter. Each year, it distributes more and more funds for period products. In 2018, it distributed £920,000 between local councils, and in 2022, this number reached £3.7 million. The total amount of spending beginning in 2018 has reached about £12 million.
Period poverty is a complex problem. Apart from period product supply, the question of ruining stigmas and taboos around menstruation is no less important. This problem impacts people’s lives, influencing their physical and mental health. On the bright side, the U.K. continues to take action by implementing initiatives that aim to address period poverty and put an end to stigmatization.
– Anna Konovalenko