On World Menstrual Hygiene Day (Mon 28 May), the Mayor of London has revealed the potential scale of period poverty experienced by young women and girls in London. Today he calls on the Government to eradicate an issue that prevents girls from engaging fully in education, sport and their community.
Period poverty – not being able to afford appropriate menstrual products every month – is affecting thousands of young women and girls in the capital. The shame and stigma that continue to surround periods compounds this issue. With girls admitting to not being able to afford the appropriate products they need, many are resorting to using inadequate protection, or reluctantly asking for support from their school teachers and friends.
Research carried out by City Hall reveals that 17 per cent of women aged 16-24 say they have experienced period poverty2. In addition, 30 per cent of young women say they have had to change to using a less suitable sanitary product due to cost.
Not having the money for sanitary items forces young women and girls to use makeshift and inadequate protection. Some 14 per cent of young women and girls say they have had to improvise sanitary wear due to not being able to afford menstrual products – this can have serious repercussions for their health. A further one in ten (12 per cent) say they have had to ask to borrow items from a friend, when unable to afford the products they need. This research does not take in to account the girls below the age of 16 who may also be experiencing period poverty.
The shame and stigma that persists around periods means that girls are missing school, and are prevented from fully engaging in their education, sports and with their communities. Research by Plan International shows that 49 per cent of girls in the UK have missed an entire day of school because of their period and 64 per cent of girls have missed a PE or sport because of their period3.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “It is hard to believe that young women and girls in the capital are experiencing this type of poverty. Not being able to afford the products that they need is putting their health at risk and preventing them from fully engaging in their education. I am calling on the Government to take urgent action and end period poverty.
“I am proud to announce that I will work with The Red Box Project to support girls at risk of experiencing period poverty in London’s schools, and help provide them with the products that they need. This year, through our #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign, I have pledged to fight gender inequality in all its forms, and we must tackle the issue of period poverty and ensure that no woman or girl goes without this basic right.”
As we mark the progress women have made in London since the first women secured the right to vote 100 years ago, Sadiq is calling on the Government to eradicate this very specific gender-based poverty and to ensure that no woman or girl has to go without appropriate menstrual products because of a lack of resources. Better information also needs to be provided to women and girls on the options available to them such as sustainable and reusable products, so that they can make an informed choice about these alternatives. There is an urgent need for further Government research on the scale of women and girls affected both in London and across the country, so that the right collective and coordinated action can be taken to end period poverty.
To support girls in London, City Hall is joining forces with community organisation, The Red Box Project, who supply sanitary items to local schools. The Red Box Project supports disadvantaged young women through their period by stocking schools with menstrual products donated through red collection boxes in local business and organisations willing to help. The boxes are kept in schools with an appropriate member of staff, and plain paper bags are used to ensure discretion. A donation point is now set up in City Hall, and The Red Box Project will provide the products with girls at risk of period poverty at local school St Saviour and St. Olave’s in Southwark. Increasingly schools find themselves playing an informal role in dealing with the effects of poverty, feeding children or providing basic forms of support whilst many of them continue to face cuts to their budget and City Hall are looking at various ways to support London schools with this challenge.
To tackle the issue of women experiencing period poverty in London, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) is working to ensure that women in police custody always have access to a female officer and a sanitary hygiene pack when on their period, which is currently not always the case.
Becky Lopez, South East London Coordinator, The Red Box Project, said: “Period poverty is a hidden problem in London, but such an important one. Without adequate menstrual products, girls can miss weeks of school a year, or face embarrassing situations that can damage their education, self-confidence and health. Young women deserve better.
“The Red Box Project fights period poverty by collecting donations of sanitary products and underwear from communities and giving them to local schools in red boxes. The Red Box is there to support disadvantaged young women throughout their entire period, giving them whatever they need. We’re thrilled to be partnering with City Hall to collect donations and reach more young women through schools in south east London.”
Amika George, Free Periods campaigner, said: “I’m really excited about the Mayor’s Office and Red Box Project working together to help eradicate period poverty in London. No girl should be held back from being her very best because she can’t afford menstrual products. As a schoolgirl myself, I understand how easy it is to slip behind when missing days of school. It can be damaging in so many ways. Now, with this collaboration, every girl can attend school without stress, with dignity and confidence. Today, I stand proud to be a Londoner in seeing how the Mayor is serious about gender equality by taking bold and vital steps towards ending period poverty in the capital.”
Katie Kempen, Chief Executive, Independent Custody Visiting Association, said: “We are delighted to be working with MOPAC to ensure that all female detainees are able to speak to a female member of staff and are given appropriate menstrual care and products whilst in police custody. This is a human right and we are pleased to see MOPAC taking a lead on period poverty. Nobody should be left to bleed for want of a conversation or an inexpensive tampon.”
Catherine May, Headteacher, St Saviour and St. Olave’s school, said: “Students and staff have been alarmed at the numbers of young women in this country who experience period poverty. We have previously fundraised to provide things such as decent toilet blocks in schools in less privileged parts of the world, without which girls are less likely to attend school, and have reflected on how fortunate we are. It is therefore shocking to hear that girls in our own country, indeed our own city, have at times been unable to attend school because they couldn’t afford adequate sanitary protection. This is not acceptable in modern day Britain, and we are pleased to support the Red Box campaign. It is a pity such a campaign is necessary, but if we genuinely want to see equality of access to education and facilitate real social mobility then we must be willing to challenge every situation which prevents young women attending school and making the most all of the educational opportunities that give them choices for their futures.”
Georgina, pupil at St Saviour and St. Olave’s school, said: “The fact that girls are having to use their socks in replacement of sanitary products or take days off of school because they cannot afford sanitary products emphasises the urgency of tackling this issue and making sanitary products more accessible especially for young girls. There is certainly a stigma surrounding periods, even in a girls school, many girls want to hide that they are on their period in school time.”