How the UK is continuing its fight against period poverty

Spearheaded by Scotland, a new campaign has launched in England in a bid to provide free menstrual products for school children. But how is the UK continuing its fight against period poverty in 2019?

Period poverty is a very private struggle for women throughout the UK and quantifying its extent has been a challenge.

While many charities are working in developing countries such as Kenya — where period poverty is a known issue, thousands of women and girls across Scotland are experiencing the effects of period poverty right on our doorstep, with serious implications on their education and health.

In the UK, the world’s fifth largest economy, one in ten women cannot afford sanitary pads or tampons. Although some would argue that these products cost very little, ​it is also true that not all products are suitable for or accessible to everyone. 

We often forget that in areas where young women and girls are living in poverty, menstrual products are not at the top of their priority list, when eating enough to stay alive and keeping warm are everyday battles in themselves.   

As a student, even I begrudge paying the few monthly pounds for a box of tampons, but to young girls without their own income or financial support system, this natural and biological function has a much more drastic impact and can often result in them missing out on school. 

However, crucial steps are being made in Scotland to address the bloody reality head on. 

The country’s current pilot scheme offers access to free period products to low-income families, and in August 2018, the Scottish government announced it was becoming the first national government to provide free access to products in all schools, colleges and universities. 

The advancement followed the country’s decision to roll out free sanitary products for low income women and households.

Scottish labour MSP, Monica Lennon, called on the government to go one step further and make Scotland a “world-leader in tackling period poverty” by introducing a universal system.

“I welcomed the announcement that the Scottish Government would fund free period products in schools, colleges and universities however there is much more to be done.

“Access to period products should be a right, regardless of income, which is why I am continuing to move ahead with plans for legislation to introduce a universal system of free access to period products for everyone in Scotland,” she said. 

It was back in 2016 that Lennon first asked the Scottish Government if any consideration had been given to the affordability of period products and from then her campaign was born.

“The boundaries of the current roll out by the Scottish Government means that the stigma which surrounds menstruation is still able to exist, I want to see that disappear.

“Period products should be as easy to access for free as toilet roll and hand wash and my campaign won’t end until that is the case,” she explains.

While Scotland is setting a precedent for other countries and their approach to period poverty, England has thus far failed to follow suit. 

In London alone 80,000 young women and girls are impacted by period poverty. In the last year, an announcement came from Westminster that ​£1.5 million of the tampon tax​ fund would be given to charities to address period poverty but change is yet to be seen. 

Nineteen-year-old activist and founder of the #freeperiod campaign, Amika George, is now leading the fight against period poverty by launching a legal campaign to get the British government to provide free menstrual products in schools just as Scotland has.  With hopes of bringing England up to speed, ​the fundraising page set up by George, which has a target of £10,000 by February 7, has had more than £6,500 donated by hundreds of people since the campaign launched in early January. 

#freeperiod campaign video:

In her interview with the Evening Standard, George expressed how prevalent the issue of period poverty remains, and how determined she is on tackling it in 2019. “​Equal access to education is a fundamental human right and no one should miss school because they cannot afford pads and tampons. These products must be provided for free in every school and college,” she stated. 

With 2018 being named ‘year of the women’, we can only hope that 2019 will hold even greater things for women’s rights. 

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