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Stigma, Shame and Period Poverty

What is Period Poverty?

Period Poverty is a global issue. Period poverty is described as the lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints. This can be caused by a wide range of life events that negatively impact on a girl or woman’s ability to access sanitary products to manage her period. Period poverty can also be linked to a lack of understanding surrounding menstruation.

Period Poverty in the UK

In 2017, a survey by Plan International UK reported that 1 in 10 girls could not afford sanitary products;  1 in 7 had to ask to borrow supplies a friend due to affordability issues; and 1 in 10 had to improvise sanitary wear.  It was estimated that in 2017, over 137,000 children across the UK have missed school days due to period poverty.

In 2017, it was reported that schools had resorted to buying sanitary products to keep pupils in school. Food banks are being relied upon to provide sanitary products for women and families. Some supermarkets have cut prices or pay the 5% tax themselves to increase affordability.

In January 2020, a Government Scheme was introduced, allowing state schools and colleges in England to order free period products for students. Tampons, pads and menstrual cups will be available for primary and secondary institutions. The Government said it would give each school a certain amount of money to spend on products, calculated on the basis that 35% of pupils who menstruate will use them.

Wales introduced funding for free products in schools from April 2019. Scotland set up a similar scheme in 2019 to what England introduced last year.

It has been reported that there was a rise of the number of women and girls facing period poverty due to Coronavirus. People have been resorted to using substitutions, for instance, newspapers, bed linen or towels.

Removal of VAT from Sanitary Products

Since the 1st January 2021, VAT has been removed on women’s sanitary products. This has been portrayed as one of the victories from leaving the European Union. In 2016, the European parliament had voted unanimously to start the regulatory process to allow any EU country to abolish tampon tax. It is important to note that the proposals have not yet been agreed by all member states and is in progress at the time of the article. However, at the time of writing, the removal of VAT does not apply to period pants as they are classed as underwear so are taxed at 20%. 


In 2019, the then Children and Families Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, announced plans to introduce a thorough curriculum on relationships, sex and health education. This previous guidance on this subject matter for school children is over 20 years old and is seen as out of step with current lives and relationships. The impact of Covid-19 has affected this and vulnerable young people will have missed out on essential parts of their education and this could be one of them. As a lack of menstrual hygiene education is a key element of period poverty, it is vital that they learn about this.

Without proper menstrual education at these crucial ages, young girls will suffer due to fear, confusion and lack of knowledge about their period. They may suffer due to period stigma without the proper education to break the taboos.

The P Card Scheme

A project was launched in Autumn 2018, which finished in March last year. This project was called ‘Let’s talk. Period’ and was launched by a charity called Brook in conjunction with another charity called Plan International UK. It was a project which consisted of a P card scheme for young people. This provided them with access to free period products and education. This project provided small organisations with a grant scheme to tackle period poverty. The P card scheme operated in 7 areas across England. It supported 4,600 disadvantaged young people by enabling them to access free period products and provided them with education on menstruation.

Period Poverty around the world

As mentioned in the introduction, there is a lack of understanding on a global scale surrounding menstruation. There is a cultural shame attached to menstruation and a shortage of resources which prevent women undergoing their daily lives.

Work is required to dismantle the stigma surrounding menstruation and educate everyone about how periods are a normal and healthy bodily function. Those that do not have access to this education are growing up in a climate where they feel ashamed about their bodies and remain uneducated about important elements of menstruation.

blue and white plastic pack

What can we do as individuals?

Unfortunately, without systematic change, period poverty will continue to have a wider impact on society.

However, as individuals there are things we can do. Period poverty is not always an easy thing to talk about as periods go hand-in-hand with shame and stigma. We need to listen to the needs of the vulnerable who are frequently overlooked when it comes to period poverty.

Donate sanitary items to your local food bank who will always be appreciative of an donations of products. You can check on the Trussell Trust website where you can check where your nearest food bank run by them is located and what items it needs. Buy sanitary products from social enterprises that do something to combat period poverty. One example of a social enterprise which does that is Hey Girls.  There is a vast range of social enterprises to choose from, I have just given the one I use as an example. Through talking with friends I know there are plenty of others to choose from.

There are countries leading the way and providing us with good news in the fight against period poverty.


Scotland have gone one step further and under the Period Products (Free Provision)(Scotland) Bill, there will be a legal duty on authorities to ensure that free items such as tampons and sanitary towels are available to ‘anyone who needs them’. It will be for Scotland’s councils to decide the practical arrangements that are put in place. They must give ‘anyone who needs them’ access to different types of period products ‘reasonably easily’ and with ‘reasonable dignity’.

New Zealand

New Zealand has recently announced that from June, all schools will offer free period products as part of the efforts to stamp out period poverty. This move follows a successful pilot programme last year in 15 schools. This has been confirmed until 2024 and will cost £13 million to the New Zealand Government.

Ending period poverty

Globally, 2.3 billion people lack basic sanitation services and in developing counties, only 27% of the population has a hand washing facility with water and soap at home. Managing periods is a major challenge without these facilities.

Poor menstrual hygiene can pose physical health risks and has been linked to reproductive and urinary tract infections. Disabled girls and women face additional challenges with menstrual hygiene and are affected disproportionately with lack of access to toilets with water and materials to manage their period.

This is a global problem which requires a collaborative approach in getting rid of period poverty and there are lots of charities and businesses which are trying to do this. Period poverty highlights the multiple inequalities across different countries and until they are sorted, period poverty will always exist to some extent.

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