WHY ACCESS TO PERIOD PRODUCTS IS A SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUE
By 2020 Diana Award recipient, Amy Goodman from Edinburgh, Scotland
As the Director of social enterprise – Sanitree – Amy works to tackle period poverty and the stigma around menstruation. She collaborates with several charities and NGO’s in the UK and Scotland to improve female empowerment and tackle period poverty.
19 February 2021
Social justice is about changing and improving lives. In order to uphold the principles of social justice and remove some of the barriers that people face we, as a society, need to ensure that no one is discriminated against because of factors such as gender, ethnicity, culture, disability, and age. Period poverty – being unable to afford or access safe period products – is a barrier that intersects and is affected by all of these factors. But it is largely obscured and ignored.
According to research by Plan International UK, 10% of girls in the UK are unable to afford menstrual wear, and 15% struggle to afford them. This is a pervasive issue that has lasting legacies on school attendance and personal development, needlessly holding people back. The Coronavirus pandemic has exasperated period poverty, with the latest figures showing these numbers have increased to 30% during lockdown.
A review trip to Jaipur, India, where Amy met with beneficiaries.
Period poverty is insidious. It affects some of the most marginalised in society; those affected by homelessness, in coercive, controlling and violent relationships, and those who experience other health issues. Trans and nonbinary menstruators also experience difficulties and heightened stigma in accessing period products. Access to period products is more than a social justice issue, it is a public health issue. Menstruation, which is not a choice, but a biological reality for over half the population, must be provided for and made mainstream.
I am the Director of Sanitree, a social enterprise tackling period poverty and the stigma surrounding menstruation. Based in India, where 23 million girls drop out of school each year when they start their period, we employ women from vulnerable backgrounds to sew and sell reusable menstrual pads, alongside providing education about puberty and menstruation.
Beneficiaries with the sanitary pads.
At Sanitree, we have identified five essential elements to achieving period dignity, something that is intrinsic to human dignity and social justice for all menstruators. These are:
- Affordability of period products
- Safe access to period products
- Adequate education about menstruation
- Product choice
- Combating myths and stigmas
However, one size does not fit all when it comes to tackling period poverty. Solutions will look different everywhere and models should be locally designed and culturally rooted, focusing on wellbeing, livelihoods and empowerment.
Sanitree was at the forefront of the fight against period poverty in Scotland, passionately campaigning for the historic Free Period Products Bill, which made access to free period products a universal right.
Now, we want this right to be extended to menstruators across the world. Working with the UN organisation Girl Up, the Women’s Global Empowerment Fund and Linda, Sanitree is organising an International Lobby Week to Address Period Poverty and Menstrual Health. It will take place from the 8th-15th of March 2021 and will entail activism, focus and commitment to ensuring the issues and challenges surrounding period poverty and menstrual rights are brought to the forefront of the political agenda. Through encouraging education, open conversation and holding elected officials to account, we want to champion locally led solutions to this global problem.
The Sanitree team in Edinburgh campaigning for the Free Period Products Bill outside Scottish Parliament with Monica Lennon MSP.
This World Day of Social Justice, let’s address one of the most pervasive yet invisible issues faced by menstruators across the globe. You can play your part by doing the following…
3. Even if you don’t get a period, consider carrying a period product or two in your school bag for your friends that do. This can start a conversation about addressing menstrual health issues: reducing the stigma and silence surrounding period poverty is the first step in achieving social justice.