Fighting period poverty

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SO what is period poverty and what can we do to lessen its impact here in the UK?

According to a new survey carried out by Plan International UK in 2021, more than a third of girls aged 14-21 in the UK struggled to afford or access period products during the Coronavirus pandemic. Period poverty is a global issue that affects all people who don’t have access to safe menstrual hygiene.

Period poverty works in two directions. Firstly it is a symptom of larger scale issues of poverty and inequality. People struggling financially often have to forgo period products to be able to afford essential items like food and clothing. Plan International UK said 73% of the young people struggling to afford period products had to resort to using toilet paper instead. Those able to buy the products, meanwhile, reported that they had to go without many other essential items.

On the other hand, period poverty also restricts the access for millions of people who menstruate to equal education and job opportunities, contributing the cycle of poverty. The cultural shame connected with menstruation shuts them out of public spaces. There is also a direct link between period poverty, poor quality of life, and poor mental health. The economic and social impact of this is huge. The Coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated these issues in every way possible.

Although in the past couple of years there has been significant public awareness of period poverty thanks to organisations such as Free Periods (@freeperiods) campaigning to end period poverty in schools, and Bloody Good Period (@bloodygoodperiod) providing products for refugees and asylum seekers, it’s clear there is a lot more work to be done. So what can you do to help, starting in your local area? I’ve put together a short action plan you can use to make a difference in your community.

Raise money if you can to distribute period products

If it’s something you are able to do, getting together with friends and brainstorming ways to raise money can be a really effective way of supporting people struggling to access what they need.

  • Find a local
    • homeless shelter
    • refugee centre
    • food bank
    • women’s shelter
  • Call them up and ask them if they are in need of period products, and if so which ones
  • Get together with friends and brainstorm ideas to raise some money. E.g:
    • cake sale
    • jewellery making
    • arts and crafts
    • sponsorship (for example a sponsored run, or a sponsored bake)
  • With the money raised, buy a selection of period products for the organisation you have spoken to and distribute them!
Write to your school
  • Period poverty among young people can start with their experience at school. Write a letter to your school asking them if they’ll support you in your fundraising, if they provide free access to period products in the school itself, and what they do, or what they can do, to support their pupils in this regard.
    • Lots of organisations, such as Free Periods, provide template letters and guidance for writing to your schools
Look up if there is an organisation dedicated to fighting period poverty near you
  • Ask them what you can do to help
  • You could suggest volunteering once a week with them, distribute flyers for them, spread awareness or provide them with period products
  • There are many different organisations working to fight period poverty nationally, so if you can’t find a local group try to contact a larger organisation and suggest how you can help them make an impact in your local area
If your family can, suggest they buy one or two period products in their weekly shop to put in the food bank donations box
  • In most supermarkets, after you’ve paid you can usually find a food bank box that the supermarket takes to their local food bank
  • Ask whoever you’re shopping with if they are able to buy an extra pack of sanitary pads to put in the food bank box
  • If you do this every time you do a weekly shop you could be providing four girls access to safe sanitary products for a whole year!
Where can you access free period products if you need them?
  • First off, speak to your school nurse or your teacher
    • Most schools, even if they don’t have a specific policy regarding addressing period poverty itself, will almost always have spare sanitary products for you to use.
  • Call up local community centres, food banks, youth groups or shelters asking if they provide period products. They usually do, and they’re more than happy to provide you with what you need. If they don’t already provide them, it’s because they’re not aware there’s a need so letting them know is super important!
  • Look up organisations advocating for period equality near you. Many of them have online forms you can fill in or phone numbers you can call to request period products for yourself or someone you know
    • For example Freedom4Girls working in and around Leeds and Sheffield

Although there is a lot we can do to fight period poverty in our local area, ultimately it’s an issue that needs to be solved from the top down. In 2020, Scotland passed the Period Products (Free Provision) Bill that makes it mandatory for local authorities to ensure that period products are free and accessible to anyone who needs them, whether that be in schools, universities, supermarkets, bars etc. In 2022, a new app was launched in Scotland that allows you to locate where your nearest free sanitary items are. These provisions are a massive step in curbing the impact of period poverty, so lobbying and campaigning for free period products to be accessible in England and Wales too is the next stage. If you can, getting involved in campaigns like Bloody Good Period and Period Poverty UK to put pressure on the government is a crucial step to ending period poverty.

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