The Period Utopia: How do we Want the World’s Period Practices to Change?
Written by Anesu Rupango
This blog article will delve into the current trend within major corporations of addressing period poverty. It will ask questions surrounding the work being done currently, including whether strategies such as ‘Ask Sandy’ are more short term band-aid or a necessary step in the right direction, alongside the work that still needs to be done to fully address and eventually eradicate period poverty. It will, at its core, investigate poverty as a whole in the UK, and how it is both addressed by major media (even right-wing media addresses poverty, but instead blames those in poverty for their situations, rather than those actually accountable, i.e. government causing austerity), businesses, and household names such as Lidl and Morrisons, whilst also ignored by fundamental institutions such as the government. Ultimately, we will present the Gift Wellness Vision for the Future, which will outline how we, as a social enterprise, envision a period of poverty-less UK.
But before championing these supermarket schemes, we first need some context on the state of period poverty and get a perspective on how far we yet have to go... In a report by Plan International published in May 2020, they found that 3 in 10 young women and girls throughout the UK struggled to access sanitary pads, tampons and other period products during the lockdown. In London alone, 80,000 young women and girls are affected by period poverty.
This is notably because the government’s current Period Product Scheme that was introduced in 2019 makes free sanitary products available in schools. So, much like the free school meals debacle, only offering free sanitary products to girls only during term time doesn't work, as many women know, periods can happen during summer holidays, over weekends, and during lockdowns. What should be noted is that only 40% of schools have taken the government up on these scheme, where it should be made mandatory for all school. This highlights the need to educate policymakers and the need for advocates such as The Gift Wellness Foundation.
So where does this leave the rest of the UK in terms of access to sanitary products and the period policy?
In Welsh primary schools, more than 141,000 girls in all primary and secondary schools will have access to free sanitary products under recent Welsh Government plans.
In 2020, Scotland became the first country in the world to provide free access to period products. MSPs unanimously passed legislation brought forward by Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon, bringing in the legal right of free access to menstrual products such as tampons and sanitary pads.
In the governments 2020 Budget, Chancellor of the Exchequer - Rishi Sunak, announced the end of the tampon tax. The previous levy classed tampons, sanitary pads, and menstrual cups as 'luxury' items rather than essentials, and are therefore subjected to 5% tax. The zero per cent rate that went into effect on January 1st 2021, will reportedly save the average woman almost £40 over their lifetime.
While we hope these initiatives to offer free sanitary products by supermarkets will put pressure on governments to make much-needed policy changes, let us look at what they are offering.
Morrisons have partnered with food redistribution charity FareShare, the UK’s longest-running food redistribution charity, to supply sanitary products to women and girls from low-income households. They hope to donate 250,000 sanitary products to women in period poverty. For every pack of their 'Morrisons Ultra' sanitary protection bought, Morrisons will donate a pad to FareShare.
This initiative has been running since October 2018, but what has been making recent headlines is Morrisons Sandy scheme. The 'Ask for Sandy' scheme allows shoppers in need to head to any Morrisons’ branch’s customer service desk and say they are looking for a package for Sandy. A Morrisons staff member will then give a discreet envelope with the sanitary products the person needs for free.
As of 19 April 2021, women and girls across the Republic of Ireland who are affected by period poverty were able to access period products for free from Lidl. This makes Lidl Ireland the first major retailer worldwide to offer free sanitary products in its stores in a new initiative aimed at targeting period poverty. Those in need can claim one free box of sanitary pads or tampons per month, per customer through the Lidl Plus app, with the first coupon distributed on 3 May and monthly from then on.
Although significant steps have been made in the last year, it cannot be ignored that for much of the UK and the world, access to free sanitary products is not yet a thing. The hope is that the rest of the UK can follow in the footsteps of Scotland and not need corporation and charities doing the leg work in ending period poverty.
In May of 2021 Surrey has become the first council in England to provide free period products in what has been called a 'milestone moment' and a 'life-changing' campaign for those affected by period poverty.
Surrey County Council partnered up with period charity Binti International and will now be providing free period pads from public buildings and offices in the area and is encouraging donations from the public.
This is yet another indicator that the wider overarching government’s attempts at tackling period poverty or addressing the subject at all, are not going far enough. If local authorities are now teaming up with charities and large private corporations are starting their own initiatives, it signals major red flags for the government.
So, when we talk of period utopia what does that look like for us? Starting here in the UK, as the saying goes ‘charity begins at home’, how would we like period practices to change here and become the blue print for the rest of the world? In this instance we have to look at period wellbeing in two aspects, the availability of period products and societies view of periods.
Firstly, we would need to tackle the issue of access. As highlighted, it is not enough for free products to only be available to children during school terms. In the same way Marcus Rashford facilitated free meals during the pandemics, we would need to consider practical ways of getting period products to young girls all year round. Taking a page out of Scotland’s laws, this could be done through requiring schools, colleges and universities to make a range of period products available for free, in their toilets. Next, once a system was in place for girls and young women, it would need to be made available to all women by making other public bodies provide period products for free.
Secondly, when thinking of societies views on periods we can start with the place where most people spend their time, at work. Here at Gift Wellness we considered the dream workplace period policies and undertook a study into women’s experiences of being of being on their period at work. This has helped us to start developing a Workplace Period Policy that employers can use as a guideline to better understand the needs in the menstruating workforce. The hope being that we can educate the none menstruating population on how best to make their colleagues feel comfortable and the employers on how their policy can nurture such environments that best support women.
To us, our vision a period of poverty-less UK, is one where those who need period products no matter their circumstance, have access to them. Where women are free to experience their cycle at home, in public or at work without worry, in comfort and without compromise of their education or job.