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Forget the ick-factor, it’s time to put pay to period poverty

Nikki Uppal, Women’s Equality Party candidate at this year’s local elections, argues that it’s time the Town Hall funded menstrual products for young girls

13 July, 2018 — By Nikki Uppal

Nikki Uppal

PERIOD poverty. It’s a term we have heard a lot lately but what is it? Simply, it is when someone cannot afford to buy the menstrual products they need when having their period. Here in the UK, one in 10 girls experience period poverty.

In Islington, almost 70 per cent of secondary school children are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. A shocking statistic even when we know that Islington is one of the most deprived boroughs in the country with over a third of our residents living in poverty.

Although half the world menstruates, 48 per cent of UK girls are embarrassed about their periods and almost three quarters are embarrassed to buy what they need.

It is not surprising, in a way.

It is still taboo to talk about periods in many parts of the world. It is not openly discussed even in the UK, regardless of how progressive we think we are as a country.

So what can we do? Well, let’s talk about it more and take away some of the ick-factor.

Scottish Labour MP Danielle Rowley recently made headlines when she discussed her period during a House of Commons debate. We’ll be making progress when this is no longer newsworthy.

For so many girls the stigma exacerbates the problem of period poverty.

Unable to afford the products and too mortified to ask for help, they often turn to unsafe improvisations. Many girls are missing school on a regular basis.

And how is the council addressing one of the least visible yet most crippling consequences of deprivation for young girls? It is collaborating with the social enterprise Street Kitchen under the banner of the “Tricky Period” scheme.

Through the scheme, women and girls can collect what they need from Islington Central Library on a no-questions-asked basis.

This is welcome, of course, but will it draw young girls, already embarrassed and potentially having to travel to ask male reception staff with a long queue forming behind them (as was our experience when we tested the service)?

The Women’s Equality Party believes the council needs to do more.

This is why WEP Islington asked the council at their meeting last week why it won’t directly fund menstrual products into Islington schools.

Councillor Kaya Comer-Schwartz spoke passionately about the Tricky Period scheme and also the council’s potential collaboration with the private sector to further fund this. It comes down to budgets, after all – £100k per annum is the council’s and our estimate.

But is it just about cost?

The council spent £1.7m on its universal free school meal provision last year, providing free lunches to all primary school children, both rich and poor. That is £500 per child per year as compared with the £40 per girl per year required for menstrual products.

Couldn’t the wealthiest 6 per cent of Islington children pay for their own school lunch in order to free up funds for menstrual products for the poorest girls?

This analysis shines a light on how gender-blind budgeting can lead to inequitable results.

The state of Kerala in India recently decided to provide free period products in all its schools, breaking through greater cultural taboos arguably than we have to.

We commend Islington Council for creating a new role of Champion for Women and Girls and look forward to hearing what her priorities will be for the borough.

We ask her to start by championing our most vulnerable girls by funding these vital products directly into schools.


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