Search
Menu Menu

Gen Z are leading the fight against Period Poverty

Young women (and men) from across the globe are tackling a worldwide issue of accessibility, attempting to level the playing field of public health.

Periods are not a privilege. It seems like a simple statement, akin to other truisms like ‘red and blue make purple’ and ‘thou shalt not kill’. However, it’s a notion that’s unfortunately proved hard to inscribe into political discourse. This is due in part to malice, in part to ignorance, and holistically to an outdated squeamishness about acknowledging women’s health issues.

The average woman menstruates for 2,535 days of her life. That’s seven years total of pads, tampons, ruined underwear, cramps, and red rivets of womb lining. Do you know what else you can accomplish in seven years? You could complete an undergraduate degree and a PhD, learn several languages fluently, travel to each country in the world multiple times, or grow a pretty decent sized tree.

For some, spending all this time dealing with the adverse effects of periods is inconvenient and frustrating. You could probably do all the activities listed above whilst bleeding from your vagina, but it would likely be far more unpleasant.

For others, experiencing a period can be prohibitive and devastating.

According to this 2017 study by women’s rights group Plan International UK, one in 10 British girls have been unable to afford sanitary products at some point in their lives, and 12% have had to improvise protection from household objects such as socks and cardboard. Over 130,000 young girls reported missing days of school due to a lack of resources for their period.

In the US, stats are similar. One quarter of women report having struggled to afford period products due to a lack of income. 46% of low-income women report having to choose between a meal and period products.

The hidden shame of period poverty - The Meteor

The notion that economies of scale are run on choice for the consumer is a myth. The way an individual chooses to divide their income should theoretically be up to them. In fact, that is not the case for ~50% of the world’s population. Women are necessitated by their bodies to buy products to manage their period in order to continue receiving the education and quality of life they’re entitled to.

Given that period products aren’t a luxury but a necessity, you’d think they’d also be a human right, and therefore free. This again is far from the truth.

Tampons, pads, and other women’s health products are currently taxed in most nations as ‘luxury’ items. The tax on menstruation was introduced at 10% VAT in the UK in 1973 when it joined the EU. It peaked at 17.5% in 1991, and settled on a reduced rate of 5% in 2001 after MP Dawn Primarolo introduced a bill to parliament.

In the US, feminine hygiene products are taxed at the exact rate of other ‘non-essential’ goods – some 10%, depending on state. For comparison, in the realm of men’s health, Viagra does not incur a tax.

The First National Period Day Hopes to Cancel Period Poverty ...

For many years, feminist activists from across the gender spectrum argued that it is wrong for the state to charge women for having menstruating bodies. Yet there has been a persistent lethargy from governments who have neglected to take significant action on period poverty, and this is now being inherited by younger generations.

Previously, the fight against period poverty has struggled in the shadows of the public health sector, relying on a handful of courageous advocates to try and push it up the political agenda. It’s had to contend with the consistent relegation of periods to a ‘fringe issue’ despite the fact that periods are consistently relevant to half of parliament’s constituents – specifically to half the population, one quarter of the time.

A historical reluctance to acknowledge these excesses of the ‘transgressive’ female body, which presumably dates back to a time when people thought menstruation had a werewolf-like connection to lunar cycles, seemed to persist in the halls of a parliament predominantly sat by men over 50. The journey from lack of understanding to lack of discourse to lack of legislation is an easy one to follow.

Today, there’s a new generation of young human rights advocates who are thrusting the issue of period poverty into the limelight. Or, more accurately, dragging crusty politicians to confront a human rights issue and the prevailing feeling of shame that their perpetuation of archaic taboos and gender difference has caused.

 

Amika George 

Image result for amika george

Amika George is a 19-year-old Londoner who started campaigning on period poverty in 2017. She was inspired to begin work on the issue in response to the Plan International Study which was conducted that year.

That same year she began the #freeperiods movement – a national campaign calling for the government to fund free sanitary products for schoolchildren in receipt of free school meals. ‘As these are the children from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds, they are most likely to be faced with this monthly burden’ she said in an article she wrote for the Guardian.

Her campaign has been bolstered by a 165,000-strong petition and a march of over 2000 people outside Downing Street in December 2017 which demanded that the free period scheme be implemented in all UK schools.

George has stated that her campaign, though it focuses on the tangible goal of getting more free sanitary products to those in need, also aims to tackle the stigma around periods. ‘Part of the reason period poverty hasn’t been addressed is because of the taboo around the subject’ she said. ‘But now so many more people are talking about it – it’s almost like there’s a period revolution happening’.


Bimini Love 

PeriodPowerful: The 16-year-old tackling period poverty in Cornwall

Bimini Love is another UK campaigner who helps being sanitary products to the homeless community of southern England. Starting her non-profit Street Cramps at age 15, Bimini set up a hugely successful crowdfunding campaign to finance her vision, which was to provide much needed help to the homeless women in her community.

Street Cramps provides homeless women with sanitary products in monthly boxes. Each box contains the essentials, pads and tampons, but also deodorant, baby wipes, clean underwear, and heat pads. These latter items might not seem strictly within the realm of necessity when dealing with a period, but they bring a much needed element of dignity and cleanliness to the lives of women who might often be strangers to comfort, and who may have felt shame and stigma during periods of menstruation in the past.

Bimini’s charity recognises that impoverished women deserve not just the bare necessities, but to have their humanity and their desire to feel clean and pain-free during their periods acknowledged.

 

Gabby Edlin

Gabby Edlin, Founder of Bloody Good Period — thecnnekt

Gabby Edlin began work on the Bloody Good Period organisation in 2016, which has since turned into a national staple of the women’s health war-cry in the UK, and worldwide.

After volunteering for a local refugee drop-in centre in London, Edlin noticed that the lists of essentials delegated to visitors didn’t include anything for women’s periods. When she questioned this omission, Edlin was told that the organisation ‘wouldn’t give pads or tampons out unless it was an emergency’.

‘What does an emergency mean?’ she questioned. ‘Someone having to bleed on the floor?’

Spurred on by this, Edlin began the Bloody Good Period initiative as a side project, providing sanitary products to refugees and migrants. Since then, BGP has expanded into a full-blown NGO, branching into women’s health education for migrants and partnering with The Body Shop to raise awareness and reduce stigma.

‘Making women ask for [sanitary products] just seemed unreasonable and disrespectful… It’s important to notice how expensive these products often are too’ Edlin says. As the Bloody Good Period website points out, asylum seekers receive £37.75 to live on each week and pads and tampons can cost around £2.50.

 

Nadya Okamoto

Nadya Okamoto's Period Power fights the “tampon tax,” period ...

Nadya Okamoto is the US based founder and Executive Director of perhaps the longest running and most successful period poverty initiative. PERIOD was co-founded in 2014 by Nadya and Vincent Forand with the practical intent of serving menstruators in need, running educations workshops, and starting conversations about periods and period poverty.

Experiencing homelessness during Okamoto’s childhood led her to the uncomfortable revelation that menstruating whilst in financial poverty was as impossible as it was inevitable. ‘The unaddressed natural need of periods’ became such an overwhelming point of concern for her, that she’s since suspended her studies at Harvard to run PERIOD full time.

To date, PERIOD has addressed over 700,000 individual periods through product distributed and registered over 600 ‘campus chapters’ (groups of students dedicated to PERIOD’s action plan of advocacy and education) across the USA.

PERIOD is currently the largest youth-run non-profit in women’s health, and is creeping up the charts towards becoming the largest youth-run non-profit in the world.

Thanks to activists like these ones, period poverty is finding a voice – and it’s growing louder. Since 2016, a total of 11 US states have dropped the period tax altogether, and a further 10 have considered similar repeal bills this year.

In 2017, a pilot program was launched in Scotland which provided free sanitary products in schools and food banks for women who couldn’t afford them. Since then, the program has been launched nationwide, and is set to implement free tampons and pads in high schools, universities, colleges, and prisons by 2020.

In perhaps the biggest win for the period poverty movement so far, at the beginning of 2019 Australia scrapped the tampon tax for residents altogether.

But progress remains slow, particularly in the UK. Whilst some big retailers such as Tesco and the Co-Op have agreed to swallow the 5% tampon tax themselves, and whilst the country has announced a free hygiene product scheme in prisons and schools to be implemented by 2020, periods still cost British women an average of £500 a year.

Period Poverty Success Stories – Strathclyde Telegraph

Period poverty warriors have their work cut out for them. Even if they manage to repeal the tampon tax altogether in western nations, the issue persists even more prevalently in the developing world, where calling sanitary products a ‘luxury item’ may not seem so laughable.

Moreover, taking the demands for an eradication of the tampon tax to its logical conclusion: if it’s wrong for the state to profit from the consequences of sexual difference (which it is), then so too is it wrong to allow an industry to profit from women for the same reason.

This argument potentially requires us to lobby the government for tampons and pads to be completely free, not just fractionally cheaper. The case could be made that periods should be entirely publicly funded, and perhaps this is the future of the period poverty movement.

The issues regarding women’s health policy in our government run deep and cannot be possibly addressed without a targeted campaign to ensure homeless and impoverished women have access to menstrual supplies, and a more holistic assessment of how our tax system affects women. Personally, I also wouldn’t mind a campaign forbidding male politicians to smirk at the word ‘tampon’.

These young women, and many of their contemporaries, have taken the first important step in beginning a long overdue dialogue of the cost of being women, and have improved the lives of thousands with their initiatives. They have ignited a movement of lobbying and campaigning that must be continued until complete public health equality has been achieved, and as they pass the baton of awareness to other Gen Zers we stand a better chance than ever of that goal being reached.

 

Thred Newsletter!

Sign up to our planet-positive newsletter

Accessibility