I’m kind of obsessed with period poverty. It baffles me that, especially in a country that boasts the NHS, such a basic medical, sanitary right has to be gone without by so many, due to insufficient funds. In a place where you can drop into a clinic and get free condoms, why is it that you must pay the luxury tampon tax?
Period poverty is much more common than you’d think – 40% of UK women have used toilet roll as a substitute due to low finances; this is neither a sanitary, comfortable, nor acceptable substitute. This kind of gendered poverty, worldwide, is just another factor in the widening gap between men and women.
In countries like the UK, it also means that young, poor women are losing out on that little bit of education, a week or so every month. Worldwide, over 1.2 billion women do not have access to basic sanitation, and in Kenya, 50% of school-girls have no access to monthly sanitation; Dr Penelope Phillips-Howard is quoted saying that these girls are ‘literally selling their bodies to get sanitary pads’. In fact, her research shows that one in ten 15-year-old girls admitted to doing this. This is sickening.
When we see campaigns to get basic human rights like clean drinking water, to those who need it, why do we not hear about the worsened impact of sanitary poverty on women? No human being should have to sell their body to afford something that prevents them covering themselves in blood, for around 25% of the year.
This has to end.
As of last week, every school, college and university in Scotland will provide free sanitary products for its pupils. This move follows a successful pilot in Aberdeen, and a YoungScot survey, showing that around one in four pupils struggle to access sanitary hygiene products. It seems that Scotland understands the absolute necessity of young girls having access to these, as lack thereof means that girls are missing out on an education. UK wide, 49% of girls, have missed an entire day of school because of their period (this is not exclusive to those suffering from period poverty), and of this percentage, 59% have lied about why they cannot attend school, due to embarrassment about their taboo bodily functions. If this many girls are missing out because of periods full stop, imagine the percentage of those who cannot afford period products.
Women across the world are losing out on living their lives because of something so intrinsic to their nature, and, though Scotland is such an exciting, trailblazing start, there is so much more to be done. Every woman should have access to free sanitary products, because some of us are not so ‘lucky’ that this would only mean missing a day of school. For the girls in Kenya, for women who are not of school age, who clearly cannot afford to take the day off work, we must resort to much more damaging means of access, whether that be sticking toilet roll from public toilets inside our pants, or selling our bodies, in order to take care of said bodies’ natural functions.