Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
Throughout history, people who menstruate have been forced to jump through numerous hoops to access suitable and affordable hygiene products. In January 2020, the UK government finally announced its plan to provide period products throughout schools and colleges, on top of a commitment to end period poverty globally by 2030.
This was long-awaited and hard fought for news. However, the lockdown restrictions introduced in March, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, threaten any progress made towards greater accessibility for menstruating people. A study carried out by WaterAid UK revealed that 55% of women in the UK had experienced increased challenges in managing their periods under lockdown.
Lockdown measures have resulted in rising prices for basic household goods and food. Sanitary products are not cheap on any day of the year, so even a small rise in sales prices can have a devastating impact. It is estimated that the average menstruating person spends £4,800 on period products in their lifetime, with the average cost of a packet of pads or tampons falling at £2.37 (one packet is often insufficient for one cycle). For many families in poverty, particularly during the financial hardships of the pandemic, this can mean choosing between a meal or a packet of sanitary towels. It is estimated that 3 in 10 girls are struggling to afford suitable sanitary wear meaning they must resort to other means, such as toilet paper.
Systemic sexism and a reluctance to place emphasis on taboo subjects such as periods, mean that the needs of the female body are often pushed aside into a bundle of things to ‘think about later.’ Women and menstruating people who find themselves without the necessary hygiene products during the pandemic are proof that our basic needs are simply not prioritised.
The failure to include menstrual hygiene management in COVID-19 health responses sheds light on a deep rooted problem within society. The stigma and lack of education surrounding the menstrual cycle leaves the basic needs of people with a uterus to be overlooked and ignored.
Overstretched and underfunded services have now been completely dismantled during the pandemic and their significance to the wellbeing of sexually active people, particularly women, has been dangerously overlooked. During lockdown, the BASHH (British Association for Sexual Health and HIV) found that over 86% of clinics could not provide long-lasting contraceptives to those who need them.
The recent move towards remote learning has failed to emphasise the responsibility schools have to educate pupils on menstrual hygiene and sexual health. As a result, many students will approach their periods without any introduction or guidance. This leaves young people in the dark about their own bodies; increasing the risk of anxiety around body image, both within and outside of lockdown.
It is vital that more is done to ensure that our basic needs do not continue to be undervalued as we enter post-lockdown society. The ability to access safe contraception and suitable hygiene products should not be compromised. We must work harder to guarantee a safer and more inclusive environment for women, girls and menstruating people as society opens again.