Written by Anesu Rupango
In this blog article, we will explore the current efforts made by major corporations to address period poverty and discuss the significance of these initiatives. We will also examine whether short-term solutions like 'Ask Sandy' are stepping stones or essential strides toward long-term change. Additionally, we will highlight the remaining work required to fully eradicate period poverty and address poverty as a whole in the UK. Furthermore, we will present the Gift Wellness Vision for the Future, outlining our social enterprise's aspiration for a period poverty-free UK.
The State of Period Poverty:
To understand the context surrounding the initiatives by supermarkets, it is crucial to acknowledge the extent of period poverty in the UK. According to a report published by Plan International in May 2020, 3 in 10 young women and girls in the UK faced difficulties in accessing period products during the lockdown. In London alone, approximately 80,000 young women and girls experience period poverty.
While the government's Period Product Scheme introduced in 2019 aimed to provide free sanitary products in schools, it falls short due to its limited availability only during term time. Menstruation does not adhere to term schedules, and young girls may require sanitary products during holidays, weekends, and lockdowns. Additionally, only 40% of schools have participated in the scheme, emphasizing the need for education and advocacy to drive policy changes. The Gift Wellness Foundation serves as one such advocate.
Progress in Wales and Scotland:
Wales has taken steps to address period poverty by providing more than 141,000 girls in primary and secondary schools with access to free sanitary products through recent government plans.
Scotland has emerged as a global leader in addressing period poverty. In 2020, it became the first country to enact legislation granting free access to period products. This milestone was achieved through the unanimous passage of the legislation proposed by Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon, establishing the legal right to free menstrual products such as tampons and sanitary pads.
Positive Developments in the UK:
The UK government's 2020 Budget marked a significant milestone in the fight against period poverty. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced the removal of the tampon tax. Previously, these essential products were classified as 'luxury' items and subjected to a 5% tax. The implementation of a zero per cent tax rate since January 1st, 2021, is estimated to save the average woman nearly £40 over her lifetime.
While the initiatives undertaken by supermarkets to provide free sanitary products are commendable, it is essential to examine their scope and impact.
Morrisons, in partnership with food redistribution charity FareShare, has been supplying sanitary products to women and girls from low-income households since October 2018. Through their 'Morrisons Ultra' sanitary protection product range, for every pack purchased, Morrisons donates a pad to FareShare. Recently, their 'Ask for Sandy' scheme has gained attention. It allows individuals in need to discreetly request a package for Sandy at any Morrisons branch's customer service desk, where they receive the necessary sanitary products for free.
Lidl Ireland made headlines in April 2021 as the first major retailer worldwide to offer free sanitary products in its stores. Women and girls affected by period poverty in the Republic of Ireland can claim one free box of sanitary pads or tampons per month through the Lidl Plus app.
The Road Ahead:
While significant strides have been made in the past year, it is crucial to acknowledge that access to free sanitary products remains unavailable for many people in the UK and worldwide. The hope is that the success of supermarket initiatives will exert pressure on governments to implement necessary policy changes, ensuring free access to menstrual products for all. Following Scotland's lead, it is crucial for the rest of the UK to address period poverty independently, without relying solely on corporations and charities.
Noteworthy Progress in Surrey:
In May 2021, Surrey County Council became the first council in England to provide free period products, a landmark moment in the fight against period poverty. Collaborating with period charity Binti International, the council now supplies free period pads in public buildings and offices in the area. Public donations are also encouraged to support this life-changing campaign.
Government Response and Future Aspirations:
The limited efforts by the overarching government to tackle period poverty raise concerns, considering the collaborations between local authorities, charities, and private corporations. To envision a period utopia, we must address two crucial aspects: access to period products and society's perception of menstruation.
To ensure equitable access, it is necessary to extend free products beyond school terms. Scotland's model, which requires schools, colleges, and universities to provide a range of period products for free in their facilities, serves as a potential blueprint. Additionally, other public bodies should be mandated to offer free period products to women.
Shifting societal views on periods begins with workplaces, where people spend a significant amount of time. Gift Wellness conducted a study on women's experiences of menstruating at work, leading to the development of a Workplace Period Policy as a guideline for employers. By fostering supportive environments and educating non-menstruating individuals, workplaces can promote comfort and understanding for menstruating employees.
The Gift Wellness Vision for a Period Poverty-Free UK:
Our vision of a period poverty-free UK entails universal access to period products regardless of an individual's circumstances. Women should be able to experience their menstrual cycle without worry, both at home and in public spaces, including the workplace. This vision prioritises menstrual well-being, ensuring that periods do not hinder education, career opportunities, or overall quality of life.
While progress has been made in combating period poverty through initiatives by corporations, charities, and local authorities, it is imperative for governments to take more substantial action. By following Scotland's lead, the UK can pioneer a paradigm shift in the global approach to menstruation. Our collective efforts should focus on providing universal access to period products and fostering supportive environments that destigmatize menstruation. Let us work toward achieving a period utopia, where periods are not a barrier to equality and well-being.