Period poverty in 2020
Like many other issues, period poverty has been exacerbated by the events of 2020. There has been a clear increase in the amount of people who are unable to access period products during this turbulent time. Period poverty charities report that they are supplying almost six times as many menstrual products since before the pandemic. The recipients of these donations include NHS workers who couldn't access period products due to the number of hours that they were spending at work.
Despite the UK providing free period products in schools and some universities, the closure of these public places during the lockdown in March created further problems for those unable to purchase their own sanitary towels and tampons. While the country remains in uncertainty as we move into 2021, those with periods can’t predict if they will be able to access the products they need.
Free period products in Scotland
In a glimmer of hope in 2020, at the end of November the Scottish government approved a bill that would make period products free throughout Scotland. Following surveys that found that one in four girls in education have struggled to access period products – and the lobbying of Labour MSP Monica Lennon – the necessity of this cause was recognised and the bill was passed. Instead of it being an individual’s decision to provide period products in public places, it is now a legal duty to provide them to anybody who needs them. This marks a decisive step towards ending period poverty for girls in Scotland, and around the world.
Where is the UK in tackling period poverty?
This victory for women in Scotland leads us to ask: what is being done in the rest of the UK to tackle this pressing issue? In the UK, 1 in 10 girls can’t afford period products – and this has only increased during the events of this year.
In 2019, period products were made available in schools and colleges in England. This scheme helps those experiencing period poverty, but does not cover universities, apprenticeships or time spent out of school. Period poverty is clearly not limited to school term times or those in education, and therefore the UK government must follow Scotland in providing free period products to anyone who needs them. The government has stated that the current period product scheme will continue into 2021, but have made no indication of its necessary extension due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The WEP phrase ‘Build Back Equal’ has never been more relevant: women have again been disproportionately affected when it comes to period poverty.
If you’re interested in helping to fight period poverty close to home, then Leeds-based charity Freedom4Girls are making a difference in Leeds and around the world. This charity wants to end worldwide period poverty. They are focused on addressing the different factors of period poverty and working against them in order to make the most difference. They focus on education to reduce the stigma that surrounds periods, as well as donating products to those who need them. Freedom4Girls use donation stations around Leeds and the UK to provide free period products to those who can’t afford them.