Why we need to talk about period poverty

3 Sep 2017


‘Women’s regular bleeding engenders phantoms.’ Although this quote that sits neatly within today's political climate of right wing populism, it was first said by the famous German physician, Pracelsus, some five centuries ago.


For me, this connects so much with equality and women’s rights. I, a child of the 1970s, grew up thinking that the journey to women’s equality was linear, but as Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’ s Equality Party explained, in reaction to Trump achieving presidency, it is not.


This is why I think it is so important to question period poverty and literacy in 2017, and why outdated, irrelevant language and thoughts associated with women and their cycles has to be eradicated. 


In Ken Loaches’ film, ‘I Daniel Blake’ (2016), a struggling single mother, Katie, is so hungry that when she arrives at a food bank, she hides from staff and her children in order to prize open a can of cold beans and wolf a mouthful down.  A heart breaking and wounding watch for so many of us, but when she is caught stealing sanitary towels from a local shop, because none were available at the food bank, I (and countless others) found this just as painful.



Periods should be (but are not) high up on the global political agenda. The impact of periods is massive. Fertility, pregnancy (wanted and unwanted), health, performance at school and work, poverty, family, crime, child development and the empowerment of girls and women are all at stake if period poverty is ignored. 


Many women of my generation, will share similar stories about our first period and our relationship with our cycle since. Huge sanitary towels, embarrassment for those of us that could not use tampons, shame, not wanting anyone to know, leaks, and then the discomfort, pain and fear of it all coming around again.  It is disgraceful that in 2017 there are school girls who have to worry about whether they can afford to buy a sanitary towel or tampon. This is base stuff.


Thankfully, people are trying to doing something about it. The children’s book illustrator, Katie Milner, set up a social media campaign with her son, to get people donating sanitary products to foodbanks. There are also many social media campaigns for free sanitary products to be available to school girls who can’t afford them. Communities are evidently attempting to fill the gaps the government has left. 


Being a middle-class, university educated white woman, I am fortunate to have not faced such barriers. But I can’t not think about Katie. I can’t not think about the 70% of India’s 355 million menstruating women who can’t afford sanitary products. I can’t help think about those who have so many more layers of discrimination to contend with, such as transgenders who are experiencing cycles. 


Throughout time and especially now, so many of us are craving for a better world, one with less anger, terror, poverty and one with more equality and peace. I can’t think of a better starting point than to address the cycle that helps to provide, carry and nurture life. 



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