A report by BWV reporter Emma Carey
If one year ago someone suggested I donate my night time sanitary pad to the Sainsbury’s food bank, I would have clung onto it like a life raft and screamed: “do you know how expensive these are? They have wings, for God’s sake!”
That’s because I didn’t know about the alternatives. No, incorrect. I didn’t like the alternatives. Mooncups, reusable pads, period pants. What are all these alien words and why is everything messy and effort? I’m just going to stick to my tampons, discreet and silent.
Except, I recently found out tampons can leave fibres in your vagina. There is no law in the UK or US about the chemicals, such as pesticides, used in the cotton on sanitary products. Pads are created so the blood spreads out, making you think you’ve bled more than you have, so you change more often.
Wait, what?! How is it that my natural body cycle is being abused so freely? The truth is, I didn’t know. Sure, we all got our knickers in a knot about tampon tax and rightly so, because sanitary products are classed as a luxury item. But throwing around words such as period poverty? Surely that doesn’t happen in the UK….
That’s where Charlotte Rogers from No More Taboo brought me up to speed in her Period Poverty workshop. No More Taboo is a social enterprise which invests 100% of its profits into charitable projects that help tackle the taboo around menstruation and sanitation. They work with vulnerable menstruators, empowering and educating women and girls about periods through workshops, staff training and the Period Friendly Scale.
In No More Taboos Tackling Period Poverty 2017 report, half of the women interviewed said that sanitary products were too expensive and/or unaffordable and a quarter were using irregular methods, such as ripped up nappies or a single t-shirt to manage their periods.
What does period poverty look like?
But wait, I’ve never actually seen that happen, so what does period poverty actually look like? In order to answer that question, Charlotte split us into groups and we discussed real case studies, such as period poverty in schools, the workplace, living in severe poverty, as a refugee or identifying as transgender.
In each circumstance she asked us to think about whether the people involved had access to products, where might that be limited, how does that person relate to their period and what problems might that cause?
I’ll give you an example. If you were of Islamic faith, but grew up in a house of brothers and were raised by a single dad, who would buy your products? Who would you talk to? If your mum was working three jobs and could barely afford to pay the rent, what would you use? If you identified as a transgender man, but men’s bathrooms didn’t supply sanitary bins… Where would you go?
We quickly identified that period poverty was almost everywhere we turned. Someone, not too far away from you, was experiencing period poverty.
I asked 14 year-old Kija about her experience of accessing sanitary products in school:
Do you have sanitary products in your bathroom in school?
Not in school.
So if you were on your period or if you started, how would go about getting anything?
You would ask; teachers have them in certain places if you ask for them.
Would you ask?
If I really needed it, but I haven’t had to yet.
How would you feel if you had to ask?
What can I do to help?
If a basic pad isn’t accessible, then you can guarantee these women and girls don’t have the home comforts of paracetamol or a hot water bottle.
So, how can we help? Opening up and talking about our periods is a great start and don’t forget to include the men in your lives! How can we progress if the boys’ period education is based on whispers and pub talk? If you want to take things further, raise awareness on social media, sign campaigns and evaluate your organisation with No More Taboo’s Period Friendly Scale.
For extra brownie points, head over to their site and check out their online shop for reusable sanitary products. All profits go towards work tackling period poverty. As for me? I’m taking a trip to Sainsbury’s food bank, to part with my beloved night time pads. Hopefully, they will go to someone who truly needs them.