Period Poverty. Why is it a Thing?

The topic of period poverty has been circulating the media for over a month now, and yet many are still startlingly unaware and uninformed on the seriousness of the issue. Global girls’ rights charity Plan International UK recently published findings that a shocking one in ten young women between the ages of 14 and 21 struggle to afford basic sanitary products. With the media taking an interest in the story, and gathering first hand accounts, a long standing issue has finally come into the light.

The story which garnered the most attention was one of a young girl going to school with a sock in her underwear, in place of a pad or tampon, as the low-income of her household prevented her from feeling able to ask her parents to spend money on sanitary products. Many people may say that her solution sounds extreme, but we must consider that for families who struggle to afford basic necessities, there might be a decision between paying the extra six pounds for a couple of boxes of tampons a month and paying for a necessary amount of food.

What has the government done to help this increasingly worrying issue? Not much. In fact, if anything the government have been detrimental to the cause. Firstly, we all remember being thoroughly outraged by tampons being taxed as a “luxury item” with 5% VAT back in late 2015 (because sometimes we like to treat ourselves at the end of a long day by cracking open a box of tampons), while an item such as Jaffa Cakes got off lightly due to their ‘cake’ status.

From then on, government involvement has done nothing but worsen the efforts to fix period poverty. Due to EU regulations, and the ensuing uncertainty over Brexit negotiations, the VAT on tampons has not been allowed to drop below 5%, prompting leading supermarkets such as Tesco and Waitrose to bear the responsibility and pay the VAT on our behalf. While offering nothing but praise for the support that Tesco have shown, the issue remains problematic as the options of buying affordable sanitary products remain limited.

Furthermore, whilst the government in Scotland are trying to enforce the provision of sanitary products in all schools, in England it has been stated that individual head teachers may decide whether they are willing to spare some of their budget on the problem. This is a painfully weak and quite despicable solution on behalf of the government in England. By allowing schools to independently decide on the worthiness of the issue, it provides no guarantee whatsoever that there will be a step towards improvement, and only serves to embarrass the girls even further.

A first-hand example I have of the inefficiency of this so-called solution occurred a couple of years ago, as I was deciding between sixth forms. In an induction assembly, a female representative of a boys’ school accepting girls into their sixth form made it apparent, almost like a warning, that girls joining should not expect sanitary products to be available to them on site if they should need it in an emergency. This was a school which claimed to accept girls into their care but simultaneously chose NOT to care.

Therefore, a solid solution must be put forward to tackle the issue and a unanimous front of caring should be shown. This should not be an issue for those with less disposable income to handle alone, but should be an issue for all women – and men – to sympathise with and be aware of, so that we can push for improvement.

Elicka Ghahramani

(Image courtesy of Mashable)