Periods can be an uncomfortable topic for a lot of people to talk about. Scotland is on a mission to end period poverty. In June 2017, feminist organisation Engender set up a roundtable of charitable bodies in order to collect information about the challenges faced by menstruating women and found that period poverty was affecting girls and women in Scotland.
Women for Independence’s online survey offered some alarming considerations: of 747 participants, 8% struggled to access sanitary products, 4% had no access at all, and 20% felt like this had severely affected their education and work. The survey didn’t include any respondents who may have trouble accessing it because of disabilities or learning difficulties. And yet, it does capture the problem that Young Scot had already noticed, when 60% out 2,050 students revealed that it was difficult to access products, and 40% could barely afford them.
The battle for products is not limited to girls: it extends to non-binary and transgender individuals, and it underlines the socio-economic divide in the UK.
Firstly, Westminster has so far failed to abolish the 5% value-added tax on tampons, pads and menstrual cups, even though the European Union’s requirements have been relaxed to allow reforms in member States. Although supermarket chains have cut on prices to shoulder the VAT toll, the number of years during which a healthy individual will have periods still bring the budget to nearly £2,000 in a lifetime. That’s a lot of money.
Secondly, the alternatives to regular sanitary products constitute a health hazard to the disadvantaged individuals, who make use of them to prioritise other essential expenses. From cotton socks to toilet roll to newspapers, the low hygiene standards of such remedies spread the risk of urinary infections, thrushes and dermatitis. The psychological and physical effects of deprivation cannot be ignored.
WHAT CAN BE DONE: STUDENT RESPONSES
Some exceptional women and men are trying to put Scotland on the map when it comes to relief measures. Until a national response is implemented, local bodies are on the front line to distribute products and fight the period stigma. Even though their actions are limited to a few buildings across campuses and the student population, student unions have been coordinating to tackle the crisis at least among young people who suffer the strain of financial commitments while at university.
For example, the Edinburgh University’s and the Aberdeen University’s Student Associations have offered products and pregnancy tests since 2015 and 2016 respectively. Glasgow Caledonian University Students’ Association has been distributing them across most buildings since this year, thanks to Vice President Rachel Simpson’s campaign.
At the University of Glasgow’s Queen Margaret Union, the Campaigns & Charity Committee has only been able to offer products in the gender-neutral and female toilets. Considering that no other building on campus gives that opportunity, and the pad distributors in the library facilities are either overpriced or not working, the QMU’s plan is still an exceptional effort.
Brilliant news also come from Holyrood, where Labour’s inequalities spokeswoman Monica Lennon keeps campaigning to make Scotland the first country in the world to promote universal and free access to sanitary products in public buildings and foodbanks. Her final proposal was submitted in March and supported by 96% of respondents, who would see a c-card system as a discreet and functional option.
If the parliamentary lobbying is not enough, this month the Equalities Secretary Angela Constance has presented the encouraging results of a pilot scheme in Aberdeen led by the the Community Food Initiatives North East, which has supplied 1,000 women in need with pads since July 2017. The MPS aims to finance the scheme to reach out to more than 18,000 people across the country in collaboration with the charity FareShare.
It may take a little while before these solutions are put into practice, but the willingness shown by political actors proves how crucial period poverty is for society as a whole. It is time Scottish women and non-binary people felt genuinely capable of facing life with the certainty that their government will understand the struggle and promote equality, well beyond the biological stress.
FIND OUT MORE!
Follow @period_poverty on Twitter for updates on the campaign, and read more about the success of campaigners on the Period Poverty Scotland blog.
Words by Lucia Posteraro