Period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints. Distribution of free products to people who menstruate in education was limited during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in over a third (36%) of people who menstruate aged 14-21 struggling to afford or gain access to period products. This has increased by a fifth from last year, according to the most recent report released by charity Plan International UK1. The pandemic has no doubt exacerbated period poverty. The following statistics further outline the sheer scale of the problem:
Alongside this injustice, there lies a poverty of thought and action surrounding those who menstruate. Toxic taboos and stigmas that have long surrounded menstruation restrict open discussions about periods and menstrual products. People who menstruate continue to be embarrassed and ashamed to disclose their experiences and struggles around what is a natural bodily process. We are all too aware of the hordes of harmful and symbolically violent euphemisms surrounding periods.
In November 2021, Scotland announced that free period products will be available in schools. The government funded scheme that starts in 2022 has led to a plethora of Scottish universities initiating their own campaigns to provide free sanitary products. Both Edinburgh universities and Glasgow Caledonian University, with the help of charity Hey Girls, have free period products readily available in appropriate spaces on campus. The BBC have reported that Northern Ireland parliament has initiated a 1-year pilot study within all education institutions providing those who menstruate with free access to sanitary products. Furthermore, English universities have adopted similar schemes:
Sheffield Hallam University have not stood still on this topic. In September 2021, Hallam began its Caught Short scheme whereby students who are 'caught short' during their period can have access to free period products. Students can confidentially ask at help points across both campuses for 'Tammy' (tampons) or 'Patricia' (pads).
The list of help points are as follows:
We welcome the progress made already by Sheffield Hallam University in the form of the 'Caught Short on Campus' scheme, an initiative in collaboration with Sheffield Hallam Students' Union. However, we feel that there is more work to be done to help tackle the issue of Period Poverty. Furthermore, secondary research (as above) has revealed that a plethora of universities across the UK supply period products in a range of accessible spaces.
During Welcome Week 2021, students told us that higher education providers can do more to assist students facing period poverty. We believe that lack of access to affordable period products is yet another barrier to effectively participating in Higher Education, one which can be alleviated by universities. We are currently conducting research into students' experiences of period poverty to help understand the breadth of the issue across Sheffield Hallam.
As an end goal, we suggest that Sheffield Hallam University should, as part of the student wellbeing initiative, be providing period products in campus bathrooms to all who require the use of them, to facilitate a more inclusive learning experience for all students.
Find out more about what your SU is doing to tackle period poverty.
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1Plan International UK, 6 May 2020: https://plan-uk.org/period-poverty-in-lockdown
2Williams, G. (2021). How has coronavirus affected period poverty in the UK? - Economics Observatory. Retrieved 17 January 2022, from https://www.economicsobservatory.com/how-has-coronavirus-affected-period-poverty-in-the-uk