Even for the most privileged among us, buying period products every month can make a serious dent in our bank accounts. The average salary for women in the UK is just above £25,000 (compared to £30,000 for men), and the average annual cost of a period is £500, according to Labour MP Danielle Rowley. For some, spending £500 on period products every year might mean cutting back on travel or oat milk lattes, but for others, this extra £500 expenditure can mean falling behind on rent or going hungry. And when a woman is faced with a choice between, say, buying a nappy for her child or buying herself a tampon, a woman will forgo period care almost every time. This is what’s known as period poverty (a lack of access to period products due to financial or social constraints) – and here at &SISTERS, we want to do everything in our power to end it.
Period poverty in the UK
Any woman who has had a menstrual period in her lifetime knows that period products aren’t just ‘nice to have’ – they’re a necessity. Yet, even in 2019, period products are still being taxed as ‘luxury items’ in the UK, further raising prices and preventing more women from accessing proper period care. This additional cost forces some women to make do with ‘makeshift’ period products like old socks, wads of loo roll or nothing at all.
Period poverty doesn’t just affect a woman’s access to period products – for some girls in the UK, period poverty can also mean missing out on an education. According to the BBC, one in 10 girls between the ages of 14 and 21 in the UK can’t afford period products, and almost half of girls have missed school due to their periods due to lack of access to period products or feelings of shame.
While the government pledged to remove the controversial tampon tax in 2016, with then-PM David Cameron announcing, “Britain will be able to have a zero rate for sanitary products, meaning the end of the Tampon Tax,” the promise has yet to be kept. But this did shed some light on the issue, and campaigners are working hard to end period poverty, inspiring businesses to donate to hygiene banks across Britain and allowing women to speak freely about the difficulties they’ve had in accessing period care.
Period poverty across the globe
Period poverty isn’t unique to the UK – in fact, 1.2 billion girls and women across the world don’t have access to basic sanitation, let alone period products. In India, one of the world’s most populous countries, around 12% of its total 355 million menstruating girls and women cannot afford period products. In Kenya, as many as 50% of girls cannot afford period products of any kind. Not only has this kept girls out of the classroom, but it has forced them onto the streets where “girls are literally selling their bodies to get sanitary pads,” according to menstrual health researcher Dr Penelope Phillips-Howard.
Dr Phillips-Howard and her fellow researchers believe that a lack of access to period products not only stems from social inequality and poverty, but a lack of understanding around periods. Period shame and stigma keep schools, workplaces and governments from providing access to period products in public restrooms, or providing space for women to talk about their menstrual needs. Menstrual equality campaigner Amika George explains, “we need to dispel the culture of shame and embarrassment that we inherit from a young age about our periods… education is key and will underpin any shift in perception on periods – the curriculum needs to change and schools must talk about periods with girls and boys.”
Thanks to increased awareness, girls and women all over the world are raising their voices to educate others, campaign for better period care and reduce stigma. We still have a long way to go (it wasn’t even until 2016 that the word “vagina” was first uttered in parliament), and there are steps we can all take to help our menstruating sisters across the globe.
What you can do to help
From donating spare period products to raising awareness on social media, we can end period poverty. Charities like Red Box Project, Binti, AFRIPads and Bloody Good Period work to help provide underprivileged women and asylum seekers with period products, in the UK and beyond. Take a look at their websites for ways to get involved.
At &SISTERS HQ, ending period poverty is at the core of our mission – witnessing period poverty first-hand is what inspired our founder, Claire Lettice, to create her own socially conscious period care company. Through the &SISTERS Foundation, we’ve vowed to donate 10% of all profits to helping women experiencing period poverty – with every purchase you make, you will be helping women everywhere.
Shop &SISTERS period products here.