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Period Poverty Still Exists...and We Need to Talk About It

Words by Morwenna Davies

Ever wondered how much you spend in a lifetime on sanitary products? Buckle up because the average woman reportedly spends around £9.50 per month on period products – that’s a lifetime total of £4,816.50 (based on the average woman menstruating 13 times per year between the ages of 12 and 51). Many sources cite that this value is over the £5,000 mark and, unsurprisingly, not everyone can fork out this fee.

What is period poverty? Period poverty is the harrowing fact that over a quarter (27%) of women in the UK are unable to afford basic sanitary products such as tampons, pads, or liners. Previously this statistic was reported as 1 in 10. According to a study by Plan International UK, a staggering 49% of girls have missed at least one day of school as a result of being unable to access period products.

What doesn’t help is the relentless stigma surrounding menstruation. All of us will have had at least one “embarrassing” mishap of bleeding through clothing, trying to smuggle a tampon to the toilet, or cancelling plans due to cramping or having a heavy flow… to name just a few. This is because periods are still a taboo subject, which makes it even more difficult for people to menstruate to seek help if they are struggling to afford products.

Period poverty isn’t just an issue in this country either. Globally around 2.3 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation – that’s 30% of the global population who can’t even wash their hands properly, let alone manage a monthly bleed. In Kenya, about 50% of school-age girls do not have access to any sanitary products.

So why do so many people struggle to afford basic sanitary products?

The tampon tax, also known as the pink tax or period tax, is used to highlight how VAT (value-added-tax) is added to the price of period products – rather than them being exempt along with other “basic necessities” such as (most) food, books, and children’s clothing. On 1stJanuary 2021, this tax was abolished in the UK as a result of no longer being tied to European Union rules but, while this will remove the 5% tax on sanitary products, this will only save the average woman £60 across her lifetime.

Many of you reading this will be privileged enough to afford sanitary products, even though adding a £3 box of tampons to your weekly shop might leave a bit of a sour taste. But the harsh reality is that, for many women, this means foregoing a meal or rationing other items just so they don’t have to use toilet paper as a makeshift (and largely ineffective) pad.

What’s the alternative? You’ve probably heard of period cups, reusable pads, or period pants as environmentally friendly substitutes to tampons and disposable pads, but you might not know how much you could save by making the switch. For example, a decent period cup will set you back around £15 (although prices range from £5 to £25 depending on brand and quality), and will last anything between 6 months and 10 years, with most lasting around 4 years. Assuming this is the case, the average woman would spend around £150 on period cups in a lifetime, which totals at £547.80 with the monthly addition of an 85p box of liners (for incidents!). That’s a lifetime saving of around £4,268.70.

Although, a brief Instagram poll of 71 young women revealed that only 31% use a period cup.While cups do not suit all bodies, and not everyone can readily spend this much in one go, perhaps this is partly due to the society-wide lack of conversation about periods?

The question stands: we didn’t choose to have periods, so why should we have to be plunged into embarrassment if we can’t afford to manage them? Many charities including ActionAid, Freedom4Girls, Period Poverty, and Hey Girls are working to provide free sanitary products to those in need, but with nearly 800 million menstruating women every day, we still have a long way to go to crush the taboo and end period poverty.

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