Period poverty of our young women is an utter disgrace
- Credit: Archant
Rachel Moore is disgusted that 137,000 girls in the UK can't afford sanitary products
How can it be that 137,000 girls in this country today are missing out on up to a quarter of their school days because they cannot afford sanitary protection?
We're on a par with Kenya, apparently, for the level of period poverty in our communities. Inexcusable, unthinkable and escalating rapidly.
What is even worse is that period poverty – incredible that such a new term could be coined in the 21st century, let alone nearly two decades in - is dismissed as a non-issue; something that 'feminists' (uttered with a sneer), make a distasteful fuss about.
Gifts of sanitary towels are taken to girls in developing countries, while our own girls are hiding at home embarrassed, humiliated and anxious about going to school.
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Girls are missing vital foundations for their future at crucial times, for up to a week a month, because they have no access to the essentials every young woman needs to deal with a natural part of their lives because their families are too hard up.
Organisations blame austerity benefit cuts for a desperate shortage of money for period products among Britain's poorest families.
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It's a scandal of our time.
I can't remember anyone in my school in the 70s – a large comprehensive with a council estate catchment area in a wider area of deprivation – ever missing school because of a lack of sanitary towels.
It feels inconceivable that girls and young women in one of the richest nations in the world are in this position.
At an age where girls can be crippled by a lack of confidence, body-image issues and anxiety, to think of some facing a school day with a loo roll or an old sock in their underwear, sitting in lessons terrified about leakages and the tell-tale stain on their school skirts is heartbreaking.
We tell our girls they can be whoever they want to be, but the harsh truth is that too many are being deprived of dignity and opportunity by a lack of essential sanitary products.
It is humiliating to be deprived of a vital hygiene item, as essential as soap and a toothbrush, by no fault of their own.
A survey last year by Plan international UK said 10% of girls and women aged between 14 and 21 had been unable to afford sanitary products (five per cent VAT inclusive) with four in 10 saying they used toilet paper as a substitute.
The UK's School and Public Health Nurses Association say the hundreds of cases its members know about are just the tip of the iceberg.
If reliance on food banks is rising – which it indisputably is – so is the poverty for periods. If a family can't afford to put food on the table or their heating on, they can't stretch to 'luxury' of tampons and towels for teenage daughters, especially with prices rising for everything else.
To buy the necessary amount of unbranded products each month would cost upwards of £4 a month. Just a few quid to some, but too much to spare for an increasing number.
Despite petitions and pressure on government to introduce free menstrual products in all UK schools, England has yet to listen – unlike Scotland, which launched a £5.2m initiative for free sanitary wear. It's £1m in Wales.
Teachers are spending their own money on making sure schools have stocks of products for girls – but the girls have to ask, which is a huge embarrassment for them.
So well done to Great Yarmouth Council for its motion to introduce free sanitary products in loos in council buildings, following Great Yarmouth Library doing the same.
Squeamishness and awkwardness about talk of periods has to stop for all our girls to get the same life choices. We need to talk as openly about periods as we do about sex today.
It's not taboo. It is part of being a girl – natural, and part of reproduction.
The Guides are taking the issue so seriously they have introduced a Period Poverty badge for members to talk openly with their friends and peers about periods, period poverty and to encourage their members to be sisterly to girls in need.
The impact has huge ripples. Girls don't get qualifications. Career doors are slammed on them. They don't do sport or hobbies, and are shaping a life of poverty, isolation, underachievement and dependence. All for the want of a few quid a month.
We can all do our bit to make life better for these girls. If you're buying for your daughter, buy double and put it in the foodbank basket.
If you don't need them yourself anymore, carry on buying for someone else.
Add your voice to campaigns for austerity to exclude providing vital products for girls, and give them a chance of escaping a lifelong poverty trap.
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