Wednesday 13th March 2019 was a pretty wonderful day for women across England. Despite the dismality of more Brexit disappointment, one Conservative did not disappoint as Chancellor Philip Hammond announced in his Spring Statement that starting from September 2019, secondary schools and colleges in England will receive government funding for free sanitary products.
This is, I’m sure, quite spectacular news for women of all ages, even those of us who have surpassed the ages that will benefit from this new scheme. What I find so groundbreaking about free tampons and pads being handed out in educational institutions is that it shows the government is now taking steps to acknowledge that women’s health and women’s education are two phenomena that go hand-in-hand. A woman (or girl) who has her health requirements taken seriously and feels supported in her learning environment is sure to feel the benefits reflected in the classroom. Here are the heartbreaking statistics from Plan International’s research that show exactly how badly the Department of Education needed to implement these changes:
- 10% of girls in the UK have been unable to afford sanitary wear
- 12% of girls have had to improvise sanitary wear due to affordability issues
- Almost three quarters (71%) of girls admitted that they have felt embarrassed buying sanitary products
- 49% of girls have missed an entire day of school because of their period, of which 59% have made up a lie or an alternate excuse
What is the impact of these effects?
For starters, the Department of Education believes that missing school for just a few days a year can damage pupils’ chances of gaining good GCSEs. If a girl was to miss one day of school per menstrual cycle, this would leave them in a deficit of 66 hours worth of learning and peer-socialising per academic year. These are hours that many girls will never get back.
“10% of the girls enrolled in schools, colleges and universities cannot afford the basic necessities”
The fact that 10% of the girls enrolled in schools, colleges and universities cannot afford the basic necessities to ensure that they are clean and protected during their period is also another contributor to absences in the classroom. Those who are desperate enough resort to tissue and even socks as a substitute, as pupils from less privileged backgrounds may not be able to afford the extra monthly expense, especially when having to choose between a box of tampons and eating lunch. As a woman who began my periods pretty early on in my secondary school education, I feel that I have in the past taken for granted the privilege of always (no pun intended) being provided for when it came to that dreaded time of the month. It shouldn’t have to be a matter of gratitude, menstruating is a natural and unavoidable aspect of development and we simply. Cannot. Help it.
Universities, take note.
Whilst I am positively elated at this great change, I cannot help but wonder when steps will be taken to help us university students out during our 2-7 days of need. Given that public school and college education is free and yet the Department of Education still found room in its budget to back the plan, isn’t it about time that our needs as paying students were also taken into account? After all, our £9,250 a year doesn’t get us free parking, a daily meal deal, and our printing allowance is capped. Before anyone protests thinking “What about the men? What do they get for free?”, just remember that the average woman is estimated to spend £492 annually on her period (not just pads, we also need pain relief and the occasional replacement for a ruined pair of gorgeous knickers) an expense that men will never have on the basis of biology.
Is this a step away from ‘period stigma’?
Being a teenage girl is a gruelling experience, even without the constant worries of “Can you see my pad?” and “Have I leaked through my jeans?”. The cramps, the cold sweats, the emotional (not-so)merry-go-rounds, none of it is quite so bad as the feeling that everyone around you knows that you are on your period, and that you are being silently judged for it.
“If it is something that is biologically natural, and a sign that you’re healthy, why are we still so ashamed?”
The psychological effects of menstruating in a public place are another damaging aspect to the the experience as the fear of ‘leaking’ before you can make it to the bathroom can leave you feeling very anxious. But these fears seem so irrational when you really think about them. Girls. Women. Superhumans. ALL of us have a period at some point in our lives, and none of us chose to have them! If it is something that is biologically natural, and a sign that you’re healthy, why are we still so ashamed? I think it’s time that we all adapted our ways of talking about ‘the time of the month’, especially when an end to period poverty is now a very real, and very enriching possibility.