“Hi…erm…please could I borro- I mean collect the packag- sorry, parcel that, erm, Sandy has…left for me?” This phrase is the conversation starter that Morrisons employees have been instructed to listen out for in order to aid struggling women in receiving the period products they so desperately need. Checkout staff are then required to dispense a free envelope containing the essentials needed for a woman on her period – no questions asked. It’s great, right? Free of charge, simple and easily obtainable. But it’s easy to see why not every woman will be jumping for joy at this unique scheme.
As a society, we are conditioned to be as discreet as possible about the taboo topic of ‘The Period.’ From smuggling period pads up sleeves on trips to the toilet to substituting realistic red liquid for blue goo in product ads, there’s an entire narrative suggesting why not just men, but the entire population may feel uncomfortable with the idea of a perfectly healthy process. The expectation is for a lady’s face to be coloured with a shade of embarrassment at the mention of ‘her time of the month’, and although I wouldn’t say there should be shame in wanting to remain discreet, I would say shame can be found in the lack of freedom in obtaining period products.
We live in a country not where women of any social and financial background can simply walk into a supermarket or chemists and grab the bare essentials free of charge, but a country where those who are desperate for the bare necessities have to utter a code word to a shop assistant in the hope that their period won’t grind the next three to five days to an uncomfortable halt.
Period poverty is one thing, but period education is another. Hannah Kelly, 22, is a PE teacher and Year 7 tutor at Bishop Wand Church of England School in Sunbury-On-Thames.
She said: “As a PE teacher, periods are a big thing in terms of pupils doing activity. I have many girls that come up to me during a PE lesson saying they can’t do the activity due to period cramps, but it is medically proven that exercise improves and helps cramps. Girls aren’t told that, they just think they’ve got their period and it hurts so they can’t do anything. Education definitely needs to be better on that front.
“The government should really create more places where period products are accessible to people in England. I don’t think it should be a case of who can afford it and who can’t.”
For those of us lucky enough to have a prominent female figure in our lives, beginning our periods should not be a scary experience, but for many young girls who have never been educated on the menstrual cycle it can be an incredibly frightening time. Many admit to having used toilet paper and other unsanitary measures of controlling their period when they first bled, too ashamed and scared to discover how to cope otherwise. In a society where periods are suffocated in stigma, surely the best route is to educate women from school age that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Kelly said:
“I think young people are educated on periods and the menstrual cycle to an extent in Biology and PSHE (Personal, Health and Economic Education), but young girls are definitely more aware than young boys which you can tell by the language they use in school when they’re talking to their friends. More education on not being embarrassed or ashamed about it for both genders is definitely needed.
“To be honest I’m not sure that all the girls in my school know where to go to receive free period products. We have a school nurse that they could receive products from which we can point them to but I can’t say that they all are 100% aware of how to easily obtain them.”
Perhaps you read that and thought, “Okay, I don’t work in a school, there isn’t a young female figure in my life who I can support and I don’t fancy the idea of jail time for speaking to random young strangers about something so personal. What can I do to help?”
It’s a good question. And really, a big portion of the support lies on the government’s shoulders, who have not decided to follow suit with Scotland and make it mandatory for all public institutions to provide products for menstruation. But that doesn’t mean we have to take a back seat.
Like with many world issues, one of the best ways we can contribute is by donating. There are multiple period poverty charities in the UK who not only make it their goal to educate the public, but to provide ways for the public to help such a worthy cause. Donating as little as £7 to Freedom4GirlsUK will fund one reusable period pack, taking away the stress and discomfort of menstruation for a woman in need for up to three years.
Other practical ways of aiding the cause is by putting any sewing skills to good use. A sustainable and affordable way of donating is by taking time to sew and create reusable period pads. These can be made either in your home and donated to a charity, or some organisations even offer sewing workshops which create a safe environment to gather with others passionate about making change.
Perhaps money is a bit tight at the moment or you think that your attempt at a DIY pad would resemble a hot mess (although we all have to start somewhere). One of the best, most foolhardy instruments for change is the power of speech. Don’t be afraid to make a scene, because the only way you can end a stigma is to break it. Speak to your head teachers about providing free products in accessible spots around the school. Buy a couple of extra packs of pads or tampons in your weekly shop to donate to a charity. Period poverty right on our doorstep is no joke, and if all it takes is placing a box of free products in each public toilet around England to help struggling females take a sigh of relief, then I say let’s do something about it.