Jo Swinson MP writes…We must end period poverty

Talking about periods apparently is still taboo. In fact we have had to wait until this month, in 2017 for the first ad ever in the UK to show a hand pouring a test-tube of blood-coloured liquid onto a sanitary towel, in lieu of the standard sterile-blue.

The advert, which forms part of a new campaign called ‘Blood Normal’, attempts to get rid of the embarrassment around the ‘Aunt Flo’ after a recent survey found that nine out of ten women attempt to hide the fact they are on their period, and 56% of girls said they would rather be bullied at school than talk to their parents about periods.

For something half the population experience on a monthly basis that is ludicrous.

For the majority of us they are an inconvenience, for example feeling we have to take our entire handbag with us to the bathroom at work, the surest tell-tale sign. But for others, particularly girls who have just started menstruating, the embarrassment can be enormous resulting in lost days of schooling and a huge knock to their self-esteem. This is particularly the case for girls from low-income families who might see their parents struggling to make ends meet and feel reluctant to ask them to add sanitary products to the weekly shop.

A survey by Plan International UK found that 1 in 10 girls had been unable to afford sanitary products. The fact that no one talks about this means that it remains hidden. In a country as well-off as Britain this simply shouldn’t be happening. And it can be stopped. We can end period poverty. The truth is it, it wouldn’t even cost a lot, relatively speaking.

That is why ahead of this year’s Budget I am calling on the Government to end period poverty by making sanitary products available for free in schools.

The issue came to light when some teachers in Leeds wrote to a charity, Freedom4Girls, who send sanitary products to girls in Kenya, to ask if they would be able to send some of their donations to West Yorkshire where the teachers had noticed girls were skipping school regularly every month because they couldn’t afford sanitary products. If the girls could go to the school nurse’s office and help themselves to pads or tampons, no questions asked, this problem could be solved immediately. That is why we believe if we could simply get sanitary products into school we would be well on the way to ending period poverty.

This year’s Budget will no doubt have various giveaways for business and investors – those who have a voice – and the money to influence. It is our job to speak for those who are left behind, who feel powerless and voiceless. We are not alone in advocating for a change. Tens of thousands of people have signed petitions calling for the end of period poverty, and it is time that as a party we add our voice, and add it in numbers. Please take a moment now to add your name to our petition here.

There are brilliant charities up and down the country making sure that girls don’t go without and big companies like Bodyform doing their bit to tackle the issue. The Government should be at the forefront, recognising that access to sanitary products are a basic right. Justine Greening looks after both the Education and Equalities brief so should be well appraised of this issue. It is not too late to make a difference, with the Budget coming up on the 22nd November now is the time to crank up the pressure and make it something they can no longer ignore.

* Jo Swinson is Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire was a Minister in the Department Business, Innovation and Skills and Equalities Minister from 2012-15

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One Comment

  • Possible alternative : Make them available on prescription. Girls in full-time education would not have pay for them as they get free prescriptions.

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