By Will Lee
Before we begin. it’s important that I acknowledge and admit that there are comfortably over 4 billion women alive today (and probably a good deal of men) who could articulate a more coherent piece than me, a 29 year-old white male who has never experienced a period, let-alone period poverty in his life. My opinion as a menstrual-outsider should be nothing more than a barely legible footnote in comparison to the far greater voices than mine that we rub shoulders with every day.
I can just about recall my own sex & relationships education at 10 years old: boys in one room shown a 20 year-old video of naked hippies playing beach volleyball, girls scurried away into another room to be taught about menstruation. Then, at 14, we learned how to put a condom on a banana which, if anything, is extremely problematic for greengrocers. Naturally, my entire generation were ill-prepared, and it shows.
We’ve been reduced to buzzfeed quizzes https://www.buzzfeed.com/tag/period-quiz and education by Pudsey.
It’s a Friday night in November. You’re watching Children in Need. Paddy McGuinness, Lenny Henry and Tess Daley are doing a stellar job of hosting. The England Women’s football team have just finished a sketch featuring comedians Ruth Jones, Michael Macintyre and James Corden. The studio audience go wild.
No sooner have Tess, Lenny and Paddy rallied alongside the studio audience before they transition to a video clip featuring Sophia, age 14, from the Ravensdale estate in Mansfield, the 36th most deprived area out of over 32,000 areas in the UK.
Sophia lives with her mum and little sister, on alternate weekends she sees her Dad. She loves drawing and one day hopes to go to college to study Art and Design. In the last 18 months, Sophia has missed two days a month of school. Some months it is a day, some months it is a week. Sophia’s Support and Inclusion Worker at school know that she could be excelling; the schools’ expected grades suggest Sophia is a bright and promising student yet her recent results tell another story. Sophia’s mum doesn’t know why Sophia feels so ill every few weeks and she’s spoken to her GP but they can’t match her symptoms with a diagnosis. Sophia loves school but tweek, Sophia missed the PSHE lesson where her class began to learn about Period Poverty.
The truth is that Sophia and her mum can’t afford Sophia’s period, just like 1 out of every 10 girls in the UK in 2020.
As well as education and access to a range of hygiene products, cultural shame around menstruation also plays a huge part in firmly establishing young women in Period Poverty, and before we point the finger towards less economically developed countries, it should be noted that in the UK we still harbour misogyny against menstruation that’s so far from a mere undercurrent that we look barbaric compared to the egalitarian Mbendjele and Mbuti tribes of Central African Republic and Zaire where menstruation is considering a blessing and even culturally sacred.
Organisationally, our companies and multi-nationals must do more to combat period poverty, and it doesn't cost the earth. For a number of years, I had the privilege of leading a project within Sheffield-based young person’s charity Golddigger Trust. Whilst under their employ, we supported countless victims and perpetrators of child sexual exploitation, many of whom were young women silently, probably unknowingly experiencing Period Poverty. One of the simplest things that gave me most pride was the toilets for women always had an overflowing basket of tampons and sanitary towels and above it were the words:
Help yourself to a handful!
I can claim absolutely no credit for this counter cultural act of menstrual resistance but this small yet significant gesture left a lasting impression.
For young women who don’t even know that they’re experiencing because of lack of education, poor access to hygiene products or cultural shame, it is difficult to consider the true price of period poverty. And according to Bloody Good Period, lockdown has seen requests for packs increase from 5,000 a month to 23,000.
So I say we need more young revolutionaries baking Tampon Cookies (https://www.distractify.com/p/tampon-cookies), more cultural hand-grenades such as Tampon Run https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/www.theverge.com/platform/amp/2015/2/3/7964667/tampon-run-feminist-game-girls-who-code, more people like Amika George, and more organisations who say Help Yourself To A Handfuls.
The fight against Period Poverty is far from over, and it is one, for the sake of all who menstruate, that must be won.
William Lee (@TweetTweetWill, @WilliamLeestagram) is passionate about gender equality, mental health and the writer of the innovative Made of More course for young men at Golddigger Trust. He is currently Communications Officer for Church Army. During lockdown, Will has developed HeadHacks, a National weekly email supporting adults experiencing common mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, PTSD and Panic Attacks.