For far too long, women have faced shame and stigma surrounding their bodies, particularly when it comes to issues like menstruation. Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk to you about all the injustices women face because I don’t have all day (although I could, if you wanted!)…but let’s talk about an issue that is quite literally bleeding obvious: period equity in the UK.
Periods are a natural and unavoidable part of life for half the population, yet in the UK, period poverty and menstrual inequity are still major issues that need addressing.
Let's start by defining what we mean by period poverty. Put simply, it's when someone is unable to access menstrual products, such as tampons or pads, because of financial constraints. Shockingly, it's estimated that around 1 in 4 women and girls in the UK struggle to afford to buy these essential items (and they are essential items, at least now after the removal of the tampon tax!), which has led to 1 in 6 women having missed school or work during their period. That's not fair, is it?
But it's not just a matter of affordability – there's also a lack of awareness and education around periods that needs addressing. We need to talk about periods more openly and honestly and teach young people about menstruation in a way that's empowering and positive. After all, periods are nothing to be ashamed of.
So, what can we do to tackle it?
Firstly, we need to ensure that menstrual products are freely available in all public spaces.
There has been a growing awareness of menstrual equity issues in the UK, with more people speaking out about the need for affordable and accessible menstrual products. The Period Poverty Campaign is one of the most prominent menstrual equity campaigns in the UK, aiming to provide access to menstrual products for everyone who needs them, regardless of their financial circumstances.
One of the most significant trends in UK schools is the provision of free menstrual products. In 2019, the UK government launched a scheme to provide free menstrual products in primary and secondary schools in England. This scheme was extended in 2020 to include further education institutions, such as colleges and universities. The aim of this initiative is to reduce period poverty and ensure that young people who menstruate have access to the products they need to manage their periods.
Secondly, we need to normalise conversations around periods and create a culture where everyone feels comfortable talking about menstruation.
We can do this by using inclusive language and avoiding stigmatising terms, such as 'sanitary products' or 'feminine hygiene', which can be exclusionary.
The taboo around periods has made it difficult for people who menstruate to openly discuss their experiences. We try to avoid the word at all costs – ever heard of Aunt Flo? time of the month? Shark week? This, in turn, has perpetuated harmful myths and misinformation about bodies and health.
Over the last few years, we’re seeing more and more openness to talking about periods leading to a growth in period content, trends, and campaigns such as:
- Podcasts like 28ish days later which takes you through every day of the cycle in a fun and digestible way; exploring how your hormones and your cycle can change your life one day at a time.
- Sustainable menstruation trends encouraging the use of menstrual cups: a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to period, and they have the potential to reduce the amount of menstrual waste that ends up in landfills.
- And England’s Lionesses have led an unofficial campaign about period concerns whilst playing football, leading to a change in their uniform from white shorts to blue – white is just not practical during your period.
Finally, we need to address the wider inequalities that contribute to the problem.
The wider inequalities that contribute to period poverty include the gender pay gap, the lack of affordable housing, and wage stagnation - all of which can make it harder for people who menstruate to afford menstrual products, forcing them to choose between paying rent, buying food or buying period products. On top of this, the stigma surrounding periods can make it difficult for people to access the support they need. These inequalities are interconnected and can have a devastating impact on those who are already marginalised and vulnerable. Addressing these issues requires a holistic approach that tackles the root causes of poverty and inequality.
In conclusion, period poverty and menstrual inequity are serious issues that affect many people in the UK. But by approaching the topic with a fun and light-hearted attitude, we can break down barriers and create a more open and inclusive society. So, let's talk about periods, laugh about periods, and most importantly, let's work together to ensure that everyone has access to the menstrual products they need, whenever they need them. Period.