The other day I had to cut up a nappy because it was that ‘time of the month’ and I had no sanitary products to hand. The cupboard was bare and there was no way I could make it to a shop without leaving a trail of red behind me. So I did what any normal person would do and cut up one of my one year old daughters nappies, wrapped it in tissue and shoved it in my knickers until I could get to the shop.
‘One of life’s winners’, I hear you say.
I felt stupid. I turned 36 a few weeks ago, I should not be cutting up nappies to make a dodgy sani-pad, at my age.
As it turns out, I did actually have sanitary towels, I’d just forgotten that I’d packed them for our trip to London (which we had to cancel because our car gave up on life just before leaving). How could I forget that I’d packed them? I’m going to blame it on a hybrid of baby/menstrual brain.
The experience of getting my period (mine are particularly heavy, too much info?) and realising that I had no way of controlling the outpour was horrid. I panicked. What was I going to do? We only had our carpets cleaned the day before, I’d have to live in the bathroom for seven days until the red river runneth dry.
Ok, so that may be a little melodramatic, but I was panicking.
It was as I was cutting up the nappy that I realised the fear I felt, would be what so many girls/women go through every month because they cannot afford sanitary products.
Period poverty is something I have been acutely aware of for a while, however I have never experienced the fear/shame of it before. Albeit my encounter was less than fleeting, all of my own making and could be fairly swiftly resolved. I am in no way comparing my situation to that of those living the reality or suggesting that it is in anyway similar.
A recent study found that 1 in 10 girls has been unable to afford sanitary products at some point, and a further 1 in 7 girls, has had to borrow towels or tampons from a friend because they cannot afford their own. That’s a high statistic. Is it higher than you thought?
I cannot stand the idea that young girls are missing school because their parents do not have the money to purchase the ‘luxury items’ that sanitary products are still considered to be. No girl should have to miss school because she has her period. If that had been the case for me, when I was at school, I would have missed 12 weeks a year due to my menstrual cycle. That’s a quarter of every year of school. I would have found it hard to keep up with the rest of my classmates at that rate.
Living below the poverty line is hard enough, without having to miss out on education too. Isn’t education supposed to be a stepping stone towards improving your circumstances? How can we expect our children to place any value on their education, when we as a society know our girls are getting left behind and do nothing about it?
The sad thing is, so many of these girls really want to go to school. They want to learn, they crave the social encounters, they need a hot meal. So they fill old socks with tissue or shove newspaper in their knickers and hope for the best. Can you imagine what that feels like? It surely cannot be sanitary and it definitely won’t be comfortable.
Let me tell you from my very brief and limited experience, that putting anything other than sanitary products in your pants, is unpleasant.
Amika George, a brilliant student from London, began the #freeperiodsmovement calling for the government to provide free sanitary products to all children eligible for free school meals – these are the girls most likely to be suffering from period poverty. Check out Free Periods for more information.
It is a movement I follow closely and the inspiration for #womensarebloodymarvellous, a campaign I began with my Mum club (The Happy Mumdays Club) to donate sanitary products to local food banks. The Mum’s of Mancunia have really got behind it and I am so proud of them.
Rather brilliantly, Scotland recently unveiled a new scheme to give students (from school age to University) access to sanitary products, leading the fight against period poverty. Go on you Scots! It is fast becoming my favourite country. But when will the rest of the UK, nay the world, follow suit I wonder?
But it isn’t just young girls that period poverty affects. It’s grown women too. Women trying to hold down jobs and/or support their families, financially. Women who have to get up and go to work, because failure to do so means no food in the fridge. All the while, living with the shame of their situation and praying to whoever is listening that their DIY Bodyform doesn’t leak through their trousers. And it’s homeless women, who have no choice but to use whatever they can get their hands on or resort to stealing what they need. What sort of a situation is that for any woman to be in?
It is not right that any female is going without these essential items, because they are just that. Essential. But we can all help.
Throw an extra pack of sanitary towels in your trolley once a month, to donate to a food bank and you will essentially be supporting a girl through her period for the year, for approximately 5p a day.
If you can’t afford to do that and believe me, I absolutely understand if you can’t, there are other ways you can help.
Follow the #freeperiodsmovement – it’s so much more than just a hashtag.
End the stigma, break the taboo, talk about your period – it’s not the 1400’s, you will not be tied to a chair and thrown in the River Irwell for being a witch.
Do the work – join the marches, stamp your feet, email your MP, sign the petitions.
Get educated, ladies.
WOMEN ARE BLOODY MARVELLOUS – let’s end period poverty together.