I knew it was coming. I knew what I had to do. I knew that it was ‘normal.’ I knew about the enormous nappy-style pads that we had been furnished with during sex education lessons. I knew where my mum and sister kept theirs. I knew that I was growing up.
But when my period arrived when I was 12, I went in to a kind of shock and tried to hide it and refused to talk to anyone about it. There was no tangible shame, confusion or fear. I just couldn’t bring myself to talk about it and hoped that if I ignored it, it would go away. Unfortunately, it didn’t and what followed were years of excruciating cramps, blood soaked clothing in public and periods that could last up to eight weeks at a time which resulted in anemia more than once.
As with most young females who menstruate, those violent and unrelenting visits from aunt Flo soon became more tolerable and regular but no matter what, throughout the 22 years that I have been bleeding, I have never wanted for anything I may need or want to provide me with health, hygiene, safety and comfort.
If I bled through my pads and leaked onto my clothes, I could wash them, have a bath and put on clean clothes. If I was in pain, I could take painkillers, heat a hot water bottle and stay in bed. If my body was craving sugar and carbs, I could buy a frozen pizza and a bag of doughnuts and eat them without guilt. If I ran out of pad or tampons, I could ask my mum to pick some up for me, borrow some from her and eventually buy my own as and when they were needed.
I don’t want for anything during those miserable few days many women go through each month and I think we forget that as we sit weeping at Dogs Trust adverts or losing the plot because the vegetable peeler needs washing up before it can be used. As I lay in bed early one Sunday morning a few weeks ago feeling like I had woken up with a horse’s head beside me, I couldn’t help but feel inexplicably lucky.
In the year ending March 2018, visits to food banks had grown by 13% on the previous year and the Trussell Trust had handed out 1.3 million three-day emergency food packages to people in crisis. It is no surprise to anyone that women bear the brunt of austerity and if they are struggling to feed themselves and their families, how likely is it that these women can afford sanitary products that are considered a ‘luxury’ by our ever so empathetic government that has put them in this position in the first place? Some women can spend up to £18,000 during their lifetime on their periods but this money has to be there in the first place.
Homelessness in England has more than doubled since 2010 and last year, over 57,000 households were accepted as homeless in England. Southend on Sea, where I live, had the ninth highest number of rough sleepers in the country last year with a 64% increase on 2016. South East England has the highest number of female rough sleepers in total and Southend on Sea alone had the sixth highest number in the country. Have we ever stopped to think about what these women do during their periods?
If you aren’t already angry enough (or you’ve not being paying attention), here are some facts taken from Plan International UK about menstrual hygiene in young women:
- One in ten girls (10 per cent) have been unable to afford sanitary wear
- One in seven girls (15 per cent) have struggled to afford sanitary wear
- One in seven girls (14 per cent) have had to ask to borrow sanitary wear from a friend due to affordability issues
- More than one in ten girls (12 per cent) has had to improvise sanitary wear due to affordability issues
- One in five (19%) of girls have changed to a less suitable sanitary product due to cost
This improvising can be anything from bunched up toilet paper, old socks or rolled newspapers. Do you think you could concentrate in a maths lesson with the Metro stuffed in your knickers? I didn’t think so. There have been reported cases of girls missing school for days on end due to poor access to sanitary products. Missing out on their education will lead to poor employment prospects and directly impact their social and emotional well-being now and in the future.
Period poverty will never truly end until there is universal access to free sanitary products as there is with condoms. Men choose to have sex. We don’t choose to bleed. With a government that despises women and the poor, we stand absolutely no chance of this happening any time soon. So what can we do?
There are some amazing charities, such as Bloody Good Period, doing incredible work and activists like Amika George who are campaigning for free access to sanitary products for school girls on free school meals. Despite growing awareness of period poverty, it’s just not enough to be outraged.
In August I will be hosting a period party called Bloody Disgrace here in Southend for a local charity to raise awareness, funds and sanitary products for those who struggle to afford them. I am still finalising the last details but needless to say, it’s going to be awesome and will be posting about it soon!
What can you do?
- Donate to a local food bank.
- Set up a Red Box in a local school.
- Donate to a charity via their Amazon Wish List.
- Start a Homeless Period project.
- Come and support Bloody Disgrace.