Today is World Menstrual Hygiene Day. The date serves as a reminder that no one should be disadvantaged because of their period. Eradicating period poverty has been a priority for Liberal Democrats for over two years. We were the first party to lay a motion on the issue in Parliament back in 2017 and in Wales our Education Minister, Kirsty Williams rolled out a £2.3 million scheme to provide sanitary products to girls across primary and secondary school. The fight to eradicate period poverty wherever it exists is far from over.
Earlier this year the Conservative government finally announced that they would be rolling out free sanitary product provision to secondary schools but fell short of providing the products anywhere else, including in primary schools. Girls often start their periods as young as eight and the failure to address period poverty for these young children met frustrated calls from those such as Amika George who urged them to go further and expand the rollout to primary schools. After much campaigning, the Conservatives have now pledged to expand the rollout to primary schools.
While the progressive move of provision of products in schools is one I very much welcome, it is evident that the Tory government have not gone far enough. Women and girls across the country are being disadvantaged because of their period. Those who cannot afford to buy costly sanitary products, which are still being taxed as a luxury, may resort to using other ways to prevent embarrassing bleeding through clothes. These methods could put their menstrual hygiene at risk and are a shocking frequent reality in the UK in 2019.
Approximately 40% of girls in the UK have used toilet roll because they couldn’t afford sanitary products. This scandalous situation needs addressing so that no woman or girl has to face the heart-breaking situation of being penalised or disadvantaged because of their period. It is time the Conservative government urgently roll out free sanitary products across places including hostels, shelters, libraries, and leisure centres. Other countries do this and there is no reason why we can’t too.
The conversation about periods and period poverty needs to be happening a lot more to break down the taboos and stigma that persist around a bodily function that happens to over half of our population. This must not only come through improved sex and relationship education for boys and girls but also through public figures using their voices to raise awareness of the reality of periods, period poverty, and of menstrual hygiene. Thousands of women across the country may be missing out on work, education, and other key aspects of their day-to-day lives because of their periods. Workplaces must get much better at ensuring these conversations can happen openly and without prejudice. A huge number of women suffer from extremely painful or heavy periods as a result of conditions such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts, or pelvic inflammatory disease. Not only do we need to be more open about these conditions, the government need to urgently improve the funding and support that goes into diagnosis, treatment and associated research. For too long these conditions have been ignored as a result of gender-bias and taboo.
Earlier this year a brilliant short film called ‘Period, End of Sentence’ won an Oscar. The film follows the issue of period poverty and the taboo of period in rural India. It shows how the provision of a machine to provide sanitary products not only helps to improve menstrual hygiene but also empower women. The film resonated with those across the world, receiving high critical acclaim. Women everywhere are breaking down the stigma of periods and this World Menstrual Hygiene Day, the Conservative government must not only commit to eradicating period poverty in the UK but they must ensure that UK aid is doing all it can to help eliminate it globally.
No one should have to feel shame because of their period, and no one should be at a disadvantage because of their period. Women’s rights are human rights and menstrual hygiene must be a key pillar of those rights. Liberal Democrats will continue fighting to end period poverty wherever it exists. It is time for our Conservative government to take urgent action.