Do you know the average lifetime cost of having periods? £4800 (approximately $6700 USD).
When I had periods (big shoutout to the coil for stopping those painful bastards) and I needed sanitary products I just wrote them down on the family shopping list. Even as a student, living off a loan and handouts from my parents there was never a possibility of me being unable to afford to buy a box of tampons once a month.
Sadly, this isn’t the case for many people. In the UK, 1 in 10 children who need them cannot afford sanitary products. These children, mostly between 14 and 21, are forced to use tissues, paper, socks and old clothing as pads. Children as young as 10 are missing school due to fear and shame about bleeding through uniforms, resulting in them missing up to 145 days of school. Let me repeat; in the United Kingdom. A country that is well off, powerful and run by a government that likes to think (whatever this writers’ opinion) it is strong and stable. Similar problems are amplified in countries where the economic situation is not so good. In countries like Kenya and Cambodia many children are using mattress stuffing as staunch their periods. In India, 113 million children are likely to drop out of school due to period poverty. Simply by a fact of their biology, that they bleed once a month, these children are disadvantaged educationally and financially.
The industries that sell these products and set the prices are not under any pressure to reduce costs. Let’s face it, there’s a good chance the CEO’s of these companies have never had a period in their lives. So, who is responsible for dealing with this issue? Well, ostensibly, the governments. When the film I, Daniel Blake came out, the profile of period poverty was raised and yet there has been little movement by the UK government. Except for Scotland, of course, who are way ahead of the rest of the UK in dealing with poverty and have launched a scheme to help provide sanitary products to thousands of people via a network of food banks and charities. In Kerala, India, the She Pad scheme is giving free pads to schools to distribute. But the best work in tackling this issue is coming from charities such as Bloody Good Period which gives free products to asylum seekers and In Kind Direct, which channels donated products directly from manufacturers to charities.
In the UK, the leading voice in the fight against period poverty is a student. Amika George is calling on the UK government to provide free sanitary products to children receiving free school meals. Many of the affected pupils will come from families where parents are unable to work, families affected by the governments cuts to disability and unemployment benefits, families with addiction or violence issues, families who have recently immigrated. Schools already know which pupils these might be, so they should be easy to target.
Amika’s plan to normalise the discussion of periods and to help young children experiencing the loss of education and dignity due to being unable to afford sanitary products is capturing the interest of the nation and hopefully improving lives of millions of poor children. You can find details of her campaign here and sign her petition here to put pressure on the government to help all their children live in dignity. Hopefully, soon all governments will follow the example being set by Scotland and Kerala.