Wednesday 6 September 2017

Period Poverty: A Stain on Society

Fanny asks you to think back a little.  Remember life before the general election? When politics was all Brexit-y and you thought that was the real low point? And then the election happened and we realised the depths we had left to plumb?  Yeah - before all that….?

Well, way back then - in March this year - ‘period poverty’ hit the headlines when Freedom4Girls, an organisation that usually provides sanitary wear to girls and women in need in Kenya, was contacted about supporting girls in Leeds who were missing school due to a lack of sanitary provision.

“Yeah but sanitary wear is like cheap though isnit!” cried some people who have never experienced period poverty - “it’s only a few quid a month! Is that hummus organic?”

Fanny aggressively facepalmed before crumbling into a pit of despair at the plight of womankind as the group that continues to suffer most keenly from austerity.

Tina Leslie at Freedom4Girls told Fanny: “It is not limited to schoolgirls in Leeds. It's a countrywide problem linked to poverty”  Indeed, according to the Trussell Trust’s Foodbank Network, use of food banks has risen by 7% in the last year.  The girls in Leeds were reportedly using socks or bog roll to get by.  In the UK. In 2017.

Now, Fanny is fortunate to not have experienced poverty herself.  However, Fanny can empathise a little. Not so long ago she struggled to pay her bills while working in the arts, existing on crappy tips as the world’s least merry waitress, and cleaning up a tsunami of snotty baby wipes, drool and smushed chips from the floor of a savagely yummy mummy pub.  Fanny scratched around for all possible ways to save money so that she could afford essential things such as bills, food, and the dubious privilege of gifting a multitude of hen dos, baby showers, and weddings.  Fanny began to regard her tampons with resentment - expensive, fund-sucking bastards.

Fanny turned to reusable sanitary wear.  An upfront investment in a few reusable pads or a menstrual cup meant no more monthly spend on her period. The imagined grossness of a resusable never materialised - they were actually rather nice. Cloth sanitary pads became Fanny’s flow-time weapon of choice. Reusables for the win! Hells to the woo yeah!!

And then Fanny got angry - so, this whole time there had been no need to spend money on sanitary wear?! Every month?! It was a crazy con! Ladykind was repeatedly paying for shit she didn’t really need and, frankly, didn’t really enjoy.

When the period poverty story broke, many like minded fannies suggested that reusables could make great sense in tackling period poverty.  Fanny wanted to find out more…

Reusable sanitary wear and period poverty

Of course there are some circumstances where reusables are not appropriate at all. Gabby Edlin at Bloody Good Period (who support asylum drop in centres and food banks) noted that reusables are problematic for women with a lack of washing and drying facilities.  She told Fanny that many of their clients “are living in shared housing with an entire family in one room”.  Clearly reusables are not the panacea to all period poverty ills.

Cheerily though, The Crimson Wave (an organisation working with homeless charities and women in Manchester) told Fanny that reusable options “are the best way to ensure our recipients can have a dignified period month after month without further intervention.”  This sounds promising, right?  Reducing the demand for continued charitable support whilst empowering women and girls to control their own menstrual destinies.

However, they also added that “there is an issue with the unfamiliarity of these products, which does make some women hesitant to try them”.  Indeed, Tina agreed that “most people are donating disposables as there really is no choice”.

Bums. A lack of supply, a lack of knowledge and understanding about reusable options and, as a result, reluctance to try them out. So how to break the cycle?  How do we tackle both supply and demand?

Some organisations such as The Crimson Wave are actively promoting the use of reusables.  They believe that “...once these products are familiar, every day and second nature to use, they'll be the perfect weapon for combating period poverty. Until then, The Crimson Wave seeks to educate our recipients and the volunteers we work with on how to use these products, and how much they can help in the fight for a dignified period for all.” Tina, too, is collaborating with reusable cup companies and running workshops to enable greater choice.

However, education in the classroom is another matter entirely, and Fanny felt pretty gloomy when considering the commercial interests of disposable sanitary product makers in educating school children about periods. Chella Quint points out in The Guardian the significant influence of free branded samples and branded teaching resources: “There are market research and projection reports up to 2020 telling the industry that they need to solicit schools to gain young, brand-loyal customers”. So, if your first exposure to period care is limited to branded disposables, it is unsurprising then that one might regard reusables with suspicion.

Scotland recently introduced a policy of free disposables for school children, and 17 year old Amika George launched a cracking petition for free sanitary products for those on free school meals - a policy included in the Green Party and Women’s Equality Party election manifestos.   In many ways this is a positive step because it’s essential that period poverty is on the political radar and many will hugely benefit from this type of scheme.  However, if we are to really make a difference in tackling period poverty in the long term and in a truly sustainable way, then Fanny believes it’s high time we introduced education about reusable options in the classroom too.  Otherwise, aren’t we simply papering over the cracks?! (Pun obvs intended).

Ultimately, it’s about choice. Everyone, regardless of their financial circumstances should be able to manage their menstruation with dignity, and no one should have to choose between sanitary care or food.  And if reusables can simply add another period-time possibility or help to ease a financial burden , then viva la reusable revolution!

Fanny, over and out.

PS - feel moved by period poverty? Want to help promote sustainable options alongside the push for availability of disposables?  Here are some ways you can help:

1. Donate some reusable sanitary wear!  (Do check your organisation of choice will accept it first).
2. Oo or how about switching to reusables yourself and donating your left over disposables too?
3. Sign this highly sensible petition about kicking corporate branding out of menstrual education

With big thanks to:

Bloody Good Period  
The Crimson Wave

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