Period poverty is occurring all across the world – including throughout the UK, but what does this term really mean? Simply put, period poverty refers to a lack of access to safe period products due to financial constraints. However, the issue is deeper and more complex than this. Period poverty is said to be reinforced through three main components: lack of money, social and cultural stigma, and limited education.
The current austerity measures in Britain are fuelling poverty. This is seen through increased use of food banks, rises in homelessness, bed poverty and of course, period poverty. Typically, single use pads/tampons can cost up to £10 per period and on average a person spends 40 years having periods, meaning that they can spend around £4,800 managing their period over their lifetime (The Period Lady, 2021). A shocking 1 in 10 young people in the UK cannot afford period products and this increased to 3 in 10 during the COVID-19 pandemic (Plan International, 2020). When people cannot afford period products they are forced to manage their periods by using unsafe materials such as socks, newspaper and toilet roll. Using these improper products can lead to infections and toxic shock syndrome, which can be life threatening. Not only does period poverty affect physical health but it can also have a detrimental impact on mental health. When people do not have safe products to manage their periods it can cause constant stress due to the worry that period blood may have leaked through their clothing. The anxiety this causes each month can even prevent people leaving home to attend work or school, therefore denying them equal access to these spaces.
Period poverty is also reinforced by social and cultural stigma: 1 in 5 pupils have been bullied about their period in UK schools (Plan International, 2019). Additionally, in workplaces, 48% of workers who have periods said there is a noticeable stigma around the issue at the organisation they work for (DPG, 2019). Periods are a taboo topic all across the world and are consistently viewed as shameful and dirty. This is also subtly reinforced by talking about periods using euphemisms, excluding boys from period discussions and learning about periods in a discreet manner. All of these aspects fuel feelings of embarrassment about a topic that is completely natural and healthy. The consequences of stigma can be harmful to people’s wellbeing and can prevent people from seeking help with their periods.
Finally, there is limited education about periods within both school and home settings. This is apparent as there are period myths that are still active within the UK, such as ‘you can’t go swimming on your period’ and ‘you can’t get pregnant whilst menstruating’ (WaterAid, 2018). Limited period education is particularly concerning as this allows for the perpetuation of misinformation and stigmatised attitudes within society. If people only have limited access to information about periods then they may have menstrual health issues that go undiagnosed. Additionally, limited information about periods for those who don’t have them will leave these people unequipped to support menstruators and understand their needs. This is equally important, as people who don’t have periods may one day be parents, guardians, teachers, policy makers or employers of those who do have periods.
Scotland has become the first country in the world to make period products free for all, which is a huge milestone in the fight for menstrual equity! Recent research has found that providing free period products has a positive impact on menstruators’ wellbeing (Young Scot Observatory, 2019). Therefore, the rest of the UK needs to follow suit. As a society, we need to tackle period poverty through the three main aspects outlined within this blog. This means providing a universal offer of free period products for all who menstruate, challenging social and cultural attitudes of periods through promoting period positivity and, finally, overhauling the education system so menstruators are fully informed about their own bodies and so those who don’t have periods understand how to provide adequate support. Taking these steps will help us move from period poverty to period dignity.
Head to perioddignity.com to find out more information on how you or your organisation can help to tackle period poverty!