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It’s Not a Luxury, it’s a Necessity: Why All Sanitary Products Should be Free

The Issue:

‘Period poverty’ is an issue that requires more attention. Due to the taboo surrounding it, it can often be overlooked despite the harmful impact it has on females in the UK and globally.

Period poverty is essentially the inability for a female to have access to sanitary products and/or have knowledge regarding menstruation due to their financial position. Plan International carried out a survey of 1000 females in the UK between the ages of 14-21. They found that 1 in 10 girls cannot afford to purchase menstrual products and 1 in 7 girls struggle to afford them. 

This can lead to several complications for females and can ‘hold girls back’. Plan International found that 49% of girls have missed days of school because of their period. In the space of a year, that amounted to 137,700 children in the UK missing school due to something they have no control over.

To add, more than half the girls were ’too embarrassed’ to ask for help or address their struggle.  Again, this is due to the negative connotations and stigma surrounding periods. 

Statistical Breakdown:

To put this into perspective, on average a female begins her period at the age of 12. Contrastingly, she starts menopause (when a period stops) between the ages of 50 to 55. Therefore, a woman will have roughly 480 periodsbetween the ages of 12 and 52; fewer if she becomes pregnant during this time. 

An average female’s period lasts between 3 to 8 days and, to accommodate for this, there are several expenses. In fact, an average female spends £13 a month on sanitary towels, tampons or a menstrual cup. She can also spend an estimated £8 on underwear and £4.50 on pain relief, whether this be paracetamol or heat pads. There were other expenses included such as chocolates and toiletries. However, for the purpose of this article we shall seek to explore what may be considered the pure ‘necessities’.

If you calculate the above, it would mean that a single female spends £25.50 per period. If you multiply this by 480, in their lifetime they will spend £12,240 on periods. 

To focus soley on sanitary products, a one woman will spend £6,240

Again, this is a rough estimation based on the statistics of the average woman. It does not include those who go through substantially worse periods, both in terms of pain and flow. 

This can be a heavy financial burden on women and, as noted, can lead to several other issues affecting their education. 

What is Being Done?

With all the statistics accumulated, Monica Lennon MSP fought to end period poverty back in 2016. She questioned“what use is a free prescription for period pain relief, if low pay and insecure zero-hours contracts are forcing menstruating women to stuff their pants with toilet paper?” 

Lennon fought for the Scottish parliament to implement free sanitary products in schools, homeless shelters, local charities, and food banks. 

Four years after her motion, Monica Lennon has succeeded. On the 24 November 2020, Scotland became the first country in the world to provide free sanitary products to anyone who needs them. The law states that it is a requirement for schools, colleges and universities to provide sanitary products for free. Also, local authorities have a duty –  by law – to make sanitary products available for those who need them. This will build upon the foundation that some councils have already implemented through providing free products in places such as community centres and libraries. 

Furthermore, Lennon states that the country will eventually move towards placing period products in public restrooms so that they are ‘as accessible in public bathrooms as toilet paper’

The Next Steps:

The steps that Scotland has taken to resolve period poverty should be one considered by the rest of the UK as well as other countries around the globe.

Following Brexit, the UK has finally abolished the ‘tampon tax’, contributing towards the fight against period poverty.This has made sanitary products cheaper as there is no additional VAT added. For years, there have been protests regarding the taxing of sanitary products, arguing that they are not a luxury item but are a necessity. This tax was officially abolished on the 1st January 2021. 

Companies such as Always and Bodyform have also come forward and provided thousands of free sanitary products for charities and schools in the UK.

Despite the removal of tax and contribution of charities and other companies, period poverty still exists because sanitary products still remain expensive and not all females have access to free products. For this reason, the rest of the UK and other countries should produce similar legislations to that of Scotland and provide easy and free access to sanitary products for all those who need it. 

By doing this, we can tackle period poverty globally and make it a more comfortable matter as opposed to the stigmatised and oppressive issue it currently is. 

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