From The Homeless Period to the ‘tampon tax’ our periods have gone public in recent years, with many feminist campaigns aiming to break the taboo. Periods are generally considered an inconvenience to approximately half of the population - but it can become even more difficult for those who cannot afford sanitary products, as well as transgender or nonbinary people and the majority of young people who are taught from a young age that periods are embarrassing and shameful.
Monica Lennon MSP correctly stated in her proposal to tackle period poverty that: “Menstrual bleeding isn’t dangerous or shameful. It’s completely normal. What is dangerous and shameful is the failure of governments around the world to challenge this prevailing gendered inequality.” After a study revealing that 49% of girls aged 14-21 have missed at least one entire day of school because of their period, Scotland took the lead by introducing a pilot scheme which offers free sanitary products in all schools, universities and colleges.
This same study by Plan International UK also found that 12% of women and girls have had to use ‘improvised’ sanitary products from rags, toilet paper, socks and even newspaper because they cannot always afford a sufficient supply of sanitary products. This is a real risk for women’s health and hygiene.
Started as a pilot in Aberdeenshire, the Scottish government has now dedicated £5.2 million to tackling period poverty over the next 6 months and in doing so has introduced free sanitary products in all schools, colleges, and universities in Scotland. This means that no young person will have to worry about their period coinciding with a time in the month when the cupboards are empty – an increasing concern for too many women.
However, political pressure must be maintained to ensure that this policy continues to be successfully implemented, and it must be made clear that there is a pressing environmental aspect to this issue. Billions of sanitary products are left to pollute oceans and in landfill sites where they will take from 500-800 years to decompose. As alternatives are becoming more available products such as menstrual cups and reusable pads are useful in reducing the current waste problem. But unfortunately these are unpopular, and remain unknown to many.
For as long as periods are a taboo topic of conversation, many people who have periods will remain in the dark about products which are environmentally sustainable. To quote Councillor Kim Long “menstrual cups which save money and provide dignity, while not for everyone they are one of the most environmentally sustainable product”.
The question remains of when this policy will be expanded, not only to other parts of the UK, but by providing free sanitary products to all women and girls. Menstruation is not a choice, so deciding whether to feed the family or buy sanitary products shouldn’t be a choice we have to make either. And while this may seem fairly new to the political agenda, through joining the Green Party (or utilising whatever platform is available to you) we can continue to #LeadtheChange by making periods less of a taboo, and far more environmentally sustainable!