Can you imagine having to wrap a sock around your underwear during your period because you can’t afford sanitary protection such as pads and tampons? That’s the reality for young girls in the UK according to the charity Freedom4Girls, an organisation that provides sanitary products to women in Kenya.
Yesterday it was revealed that the charity is now also having to work closer to home, after it was called by a school in Leeds when the staff noticed a drop in teenage girls’ attendance; the group discovered that girls are skipping school because they cannot afford the sanitary products they need each month.
In interviews with the BBC , one teen said she taped toilet roll to her underwear and had to miss school every month during her period. Another explained how she coped without access to tampons or sanitary towels:
"I wrapped a sock around my underwear just to stop the bleeding, because I didn't want to get shouted at. And I wrapped a whole tissue roll around my underwear, just to keep my underwear dry until I got home. I once Sellotaped tissue to my underwear. I didn't know what else to do. I kept this secret up until I was 14 years old and then I started asking for help.
"I didn't get any money because my mum was a single parent and she had five mouths to feed, so there wasn't much leftover money in the pot to be giving to us."
Tina Leslie, a public health worker and member of Freedom4Girls wasn’t surprised by the news, telling BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour: "We had an idea that there was something happening in schools. It's linked to poverty - 25,000 visits to food banks just in Leeds last year. We need to give these girls dignity back."
Quite. Perhaps naively, we were shocked by the report - and think more needs to be done to make sure every girl and woman has access to the sanitary products she needs each month.
This is something Imelda Burke , Founder of Content Beauty and Wellbeing , feels strongly about; so much so that she recently made the decision to absorb the tax for sanitary products bought on her site, making it cheaper for women to get the protection they need.
In a recent Instagram post, Imelda revealed that while the government decides whether to approve the new legislation that would see menstrual sanitary products added to the zero-rate VAT group of taxed goods, Content would take the hit to help women when shopping for their organic sanitary products. “I decided to pay the VAT on the full priced items for our customers because even though it has been reduced (as has condoms and other contraceptives) the UK government still receives an estimated revenue of £15 million per year courtesy of our periods. This seems wrong when some people struggle to afford them to start with.
"I've spent the last 10 years selling products to women predominately, so it's nice to be giving something back to our customers no matter how small.” Find out more about Imelda’s VAT drop here .
Brands aren't blind to the women and girls in need, either. We contacted Procter & Gamble, whose brands include Always and Tampax, for comment: "Always and Tampax have been vocal advocates for girls' and women’s empowerment globally for more than 30 years by providing multiple programs and tools girls need to be unstoppable, reaching millions of women and girls worldwide. We do it via our campaigns such as Always #LikeAGirl, our global partnership with UNESCO, UN Women or the support for refuges girls in the most recent Syrian crisis. We are also committed to support women with product donations, and we partner with In Kind Direct, one of The Prince’s Charities, to do that. For any UK charity that could benefit from our products donation, we kindly encourage them to contact our In Kind Direct on email@example.com or go to the website for more information."
Sanitary start-up FabLittleBag are also doing their bit - changing the way we dispose of sanitary products with their biodegradable, opaque, sealable bags, the company has been donating its products to those in need, including Kranti which helps the daughters of prostitutes in India and The White Experience that pampers homeless women at Christmas. Find out more on their website .
Update - Bodyform's period pledge
A week after publishing this story, Bodyform announced a pledge to help tackle 'period poverty', planning to donate 200,000 packs of their sanitary products by 2020 to women and girls in need. As part of their pledge the brand will be donating the products to HRH Prince of Wales’s charity, In Kind Direct, an existing charity partner of the brand’s manufacturer, SCA, who together have distributed around £1m worth of personal care supplies throughout the UK since 2011.
SCA’s Marketing Director for Bodyform, Nicola Coronado commented: “These latest reports are in line with research from our own Hygiene Matters report which found 40 per cent of UK girls have felt that their period has kept them from leading a full and active life at school. As a manufacturer of these essential products, we feel incredibly moved by this and we see this commitment as the first step in helping to combat these issues. Alongside campaigns such as The Homeless Period, we can overcome the taboo of talking about menstruation while ensuring sanitary products are reaching those most in need.”
How you can help
There are various charities and organisations helping the cause worldwide - here’s how you can help:
- hereFreedom4Girls, the charity who revealed the news, have a GoFundMe page to raise money for the cause both in Kenya and the UK
- Sign it here Fourth Wave LFA, a feminist group in London, has launched a petition calling on the UK Parliament to follow Scotland’s lead on making it a requirement for schools to provide pads and tampons.
- here With their Because I Am A Girl movement, Plan International is helping girls and women worldwide to live well, including Plan International Rwanda’s programme which provides female refugees with the sanitary products they need. Find out more and donate
- here Food banks such as The Trussell Trust provide more than just food parcels to those in need - they also give essential toiletries including sanitary products. Find out more and donate to your local food bank
- donate and sign the petition here The Homeless Period is campaigning to give homeless women more access to free sanitary products -
- here Bloody Good Period, who collect sanitary supplies for asylum seekers, refugees and those who can’t afford them, have set up an Amazon wishlist to make it easy to donate, or you can donate via post or join the cause. Find out more
- hereAlice Charity have an initiative called People's Pantry in Stoke-on-Trent offering sanitary products - find out more
- hereFlow Aid are a group who are campaigning for free sanitary products for homeless women - find out more and donate
- websiteProud Pads is an initiative set up by Laura Niehorster aiming to create sustainable sanitary pads while in turn donating to those who are unable to afford them. Find out more on their
Are you a brand, charity or organisation helping women and girls with access to sanitary products? Let us know in the comments!