By Tanith Carey
Sorry, but the phrase ‘period poverty’ leaves me slightly baffled. Is it just me — or do the numbers simply not add up?
Tanith Carey said she is all for girls’ empowerment
Last week, I bought pads and tampons at Aldi for my two daughters. A box of 20 Lunex tampons cost 69p, while 28 panty liners was 42p, or 1.5p each.
Prices are roughly the same at Tesco or any other value supermarket. And it takes about 22 pads and tampons to get through a five-day period. That means for about £1 you can buy all the monthly protection you need for the cost of a big bag of crisps.
Despite this, the Scottish Government plans to make sanitary products free ‘for anyone who needs them’. Danielle Rowley, the former Labour MP who led the way on this, claims periods cost the average woman £500 a year. I’m not sure how. (Others cite a more sensible £100 — but it still sounds high.)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for girls’ empowerment. But free sanitary protection for all, regardless of need, age or income, is not the best way to achieve this.
For one thing, pads and applicator tampons are an environmental disaster. Plastic applicators, often flushed even though they should not be, are clogging up the oceans. Pads, which end up in landfill, can be up to 90 per cent plastic.
If there is any spare cash, it should be spent on menstrual cups, which are re-useable and better for the environment.
But then I suspect political virtue signalling is at play here. If girls are stuffing loo paper down their pants, as campaigners claim, can it really be because they can’t afford pads? Isn’t it more likely they just don’t have any tampons with them?
But no, it plays better to paint these girls as ‘victims’.
It’s often conveniently left out of the debate that the Government is supplying free sanitary products to all state schools and colleges. It has wanted to scrap VAT on the products for years, but the EU blocked this.
If campaigners really mean that some British girls are still too ashamed to talk about their periods, and don’t ask their parents for what they need, that’s a different issue. It’s one I suspect is at the root of the problem.
If so, wouldn’t the cash about to be spent on free pads for all, be better spent on training more teachers and counsellors to talk to girls about their periods, so that our young women can take charge of this basic necessity for themselves?
by Vivienne Hayes MBE
Vivienne Hayes MBE said periods are expensive too
Of course we should make tampons free. The Scottish Parliament is right. Women and girls cannot avoid periods, so why should they pay for sanitary products?
The Government provides free condoms, nicotine patches, and countless other services, yet products needed by more than half the population are seen as a luxury, and taxed as such.
Periods are expensive, too. The average annual spend on products is £77, so it’s no surprise one in four women and girls is hit by period poverty.
We see period poverty as a lack of access to products, education or facilities when a woman is menstruating — and it is the poorest who are affected.
This includes single mums who struggle to feed their children, women who rely on foodbanks, are homeless, or who are on universal credit — even girls who can’t go to school as they have no period products.
These girls are being hopelessly compromised. If a girl misses out on a proper education thanks to period poverty, she is less likely to overcome poverty in later life.
But because the haves aren’t in dire need, they ignore it — leaving the have-nots to suffer.
Women and girls cannot live in our society without period products. They are not a choice. Without them, periods become unmanageable, potentially embarrassing and ultimately isolating, with numerous negative knock-on effects.
In my work for the Women’s Resource Centre charity, which campaigns for gender equality, I visited a school where the girls talked about how glad they were that period poverty is finally being addressed. Not only did they no longer have to worry about the cost or availability of products during the school day, but they also spoke of their relief that the discussion is out in the open. Normalising the fact they have periods rather than treating the subject as taboo was vital, they said.
In 2020, it is unacceptable that male policymakers are still leaving women facing shame, discomfort and isolation by denying us free access to a necessity.
Critics argue that only the poorest should get free tampons or towels — but how on earth could you means test this? This must be a benefit for all women, although not all will choose to take it up. Rich or poor, we did not sign up to have periods, and therefore we should not be forced to pay to manage them.
The Government provides standard-issue condoms free, although using these is a matter of choice. Why aren’t period products available in the same way for those who need them?