By Kaylen Forsyth
What could easily be mistaken as the dismal opening to some generic dystopian fiction is actually a common reality for over 1.2 billion women across the globe. Yes, you read that figure correctly. You can put down your cup of coffee and rub your eyes as much as you want – the figure won’t change. At least a billion women on this planet do not have access to basic sanitation, which means when they menstruate every month, they endure with little to no period products. And it isn’t just an issue exclusive to women; many trans men and non-binary people are also living with the brutal reality of period poverty as well.
Whether you’re somebody who has periods or not – just imagine being in such a wretched position that you have to suffer circa six to seven days of bleeding without the necessary products to ensure not only hygiene and dignity, but also basic health and safety.
More and more people are unable to afford sanitary items like pads and tampons during their period. This puts them in an unimaginable position each month and it’s not like they get a month off where they don’t have to worry about this problem. It’s a constant source of distress and anxiety. Ceaseless.
Nobody should have to make the decision between buying some tampons or buying lunch- but so many people are forced with that choice. In Kenya as high as 50% of school-age girls cannot afford period products. What’s even more harrowing is that 1 in 10 Kenyan teenage girls (aged 15 years) have had to engage in sexual acts in order to receive the money to buy sanitary products. A similar situation is happening in India with 12% of over 350 million menstruating people unable to afford products.
However, this isn’t an issue exclusive to developing nations. It’s prevalent in British society as well. And of course, it isn’t just an issue exclusive to women. As many as 1 in 10 young people in the United Kingdom can’t afford either pads or tampons at some point in their lives.
Those of us who can afford such necessary items when the time comes take that for granted. I’ve complained about the cost of period products at times because it’s a degrading outrage, but I’ve rarely stopped to question the wider ramifications and how other people in a less fortunate position than myself might be affected.
A regular packet of tampons costs between £2 to £3. During a monthly period the average person will use around two packets meaning the ridiculous cost of around £6. That’s six pounds just to go through a natural (unstoppable) bodily function with at least some element of cleanliness and dignity. This doesn’t even factor in the cost of painkillers for those who might suffer from severe pains and cramps.
Given the soaring levels of poverty in this country, it’s obvious that mass amounts of people just cannot afford this, which is why so many women, particularly those living on the streets, go without food during their period. It’s either lunch or a tampon.
Period poverty has always been a major issue. For as long as there’s been poverty, there have been menstruating women desperately trying to get through their time of the month as best they can. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the 2016 Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake that the gravity of period poverty really hit home. The film showed a harrowing scene in which a poor single mother reaches her wit’s end and shoplifts sanitary pads because they’re priced way higher than she can afford. According to RightsInfo, following the release of I, Daniel Blake at least 15 food banks reported a significant increase in the donation of period-related items. This highlights a remarkable sense of both compassion and empathy sparked within the public consciousness, with the potential to grow bigger.
With the Tories in government since 10BC, there has been a substantial surge in the use of food banks. Austerity has meant that in the year of 2016/17 charities handed out up to 1.2 million emergency food parcels. Intense poverty such as this leaves younger people fighting the brunt end. Whether it’s the children of poor families or young people attempting independence away from their parents or carers, poverty hits them with a force. Because of decreasing levels of benefit income, families that include children are more likely to live in harsh poverty. Inevitably this means young girls and women are economising on the number of tampons they use during a period. This runs the risk of infection and the sometimes-fatal toxic shock syndrome.
This risk is enormous for homeless women. Those who do manage to purchase or get a hold of pads and tampons do so at the expense of their own nutritional health, sometimes not eating for days on end. To make the products last, they rip up sanitary pads to create makeshift tampons. On the other hand, women who haven’t been able to get access to any products at all must use alternative methods. For example – toilet paper, cotton balls, paper bags, plastic bags, newspaper and magazines, make-up pads, socks, ripped pieces of clothing. Basically, whatever is available in bins or on the street or what they already own.
The fact that there is a myriad of women in this kind of rock and a hard place position in our country is simply unacceptable. The truth of period poverty serves as a disturbing symptom of wider social issues brought about by a callous government of austerity and apathy. We need to display our anger at a government content to let women suffer in this way, without hygiene and dignity. We need to voice our outrage and empathy, to combat cool indifference.
There is an unjustified stigma attached to menstruation. Surely society will benefit from dismantling the taboo surrounding periods. Isn’t it time we stop shying away? We should keep an ongoing dialogue about it with the hope of making more people aware of period poverty – to work towards making sanitary items available for everyone. After all, it’s not a privilege but a basic human right to feel clean and dignified.
Ways to help:
You can donate or get more information from-
And donating sanitary products to your local foodbanks and homeless shelters helps too!