Why are periods still such a bloody issue?
Hat’s off to Scotland! All hail the first country in the world to end period poverty. But are you thinking what we’re thinking … “what about the rest of us?”.
For far too long “period” has been a dirty word; despite being experienced by half the population, it is still too often seen as something to be hidden away. Society has been so uncomfortable about the idea of menstruation that until very recently brands used blue dye in their adverts, alongside images of care-free women inexplicably dressed head to toe in white, as a way to curb our discomfort.
In fact, it wasn’t until 2017 that Bodyform launched its #bloodnormal campaign, that the “blue liquid poured on a pad” stereotype was replaced in favour of a more realistic red instead. There were complaints, obvs, but a survey at the time of 10,000 men and women found 74 per cent wanted “more realistic representation of periods”. Phew.
But hold on a second. If just shy of three quarters of us want to see the normalisation of menstruation, then why do we still struggle to talk openly about it. And, more importantly, why are women still struggling to afford sanitary products?
PERIOD POVERTY … WHAT IS IT?
According to ActionAid, nearly 140,000 girls in the UK missed school last year because they couldn’t afford sanitary products, with one in ten parents saying they were “so desperate to equip their daughters that they have resorted to stealing”. The charity says period poverty has worsened due to Covid-19, as more than a third of girls aged 14-21 in the UK struggled to afford or access menstrual products during the pandemic. Shockingly, 73% of those had to use toilet paper as an alternative. “In the UK, just as it is in poorer countries, too many girls are being denied their rights to fulfil their immense potential to flourish and thrive as they grow up,” it states.
“There’s a very simple way to describe period poverty: you go to the supermarket and you have to actually choose whether you can buy a bag of pasta or a box of tampons. It’s that basic,” Georgie Nicholson, of social enterprise Hey Girls, told the BBC.
WHAT’S CHANGED IN SCOTLAND?
The Period Products Bill came into force last month (August 2022) and puts a legal duty on local authorities to ensure anyone who needs period protection can get them free of charge; with Scotland’s 32 councils now offering “reasonably easily” access with “reasonable dignity”. This means they should be freely available from council or educational institutions without people having to ask for them.
For sure, the Scottish Government is definitely blazing a trail here, and this new law has taken huge steps in helping to de-stigmatise menstruation. And let’s be honest, it’s about bloody time.
SO WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF THE UK?
Although the UK is still behind it’s cousins north of the border, it’s fair to say that progress has been made over recent years, with primary and secondary pupils having access to free products in schools since January 2020. And there was certainly a big cheer when the following year the 5% VAT rate – an EU law which is applied to “non-essential” goods – was finally ditched.
Much of this was thanks to student Laura Coryton who launched the Stop Taxing Periods campaign. Her online petition attracted more than 320,000 signatures, forcing the then-Chancellor George Osborne to sit up and take notice, pledging to abolish the controversial “tampon tax”.
Thankfully, others have been quick to take up initiatives. Supermarket Morrisons, for example, introduced a discreet service to address period poverty by giving out free sanitary products to those in need. To save any embarrassment, shoppers simply go to the customer service desk and ask for a package for “Sandy”.
But it still leaves us scratching our heads as to when the rest of the UK will follow Scotland’s lead. Surely in 2022 the very idea that periods are still taboo should have been consigned to the history books a long time ago. Alongside those outdated blue dye adverts.