I was shocked and appalled to hear Justine Greening’s comments on period poverty during women and equalities questions last Thursday. The smile on my face, from hearing Labour MP Paula Sherriff speak passionately at Labour’s despatch box, melted away when the Secretary of State for Education stood up to answer.
At their annual conference, the Labour Party pledged to end period poverty by providing free sanitary products in schools, food banks and homeless shelters. This would ensure the poorest women have access to sanitary protection.
Tampons and sanitary towels are an unequivocal necessity.
After reporting the devastating effects of welfare cuts and informing Greening that some girls are not attending school due to not being able to afford sanitary protection, Sherriff asked: “Could the Secretary of State consider matching our commitment to setting aside funding to ensure girls never miss out on their education because they are having periods?”
The response was naïve, misinformed, and heartless.
Greening told the Commons that schools had “discretion” when it came to providing tampons and sanitary towels for girls. She added: “If they [schools] want to make sanitary products available to disadvantaged students then they are free to do so.”
With cuts the to education funding made by her own department, it is difficult to see how schools can afford to do this.
Going on to say period poverty was a situation that goes “far wider than the role of schools”, Greening still places the onus parents. She was met with rightful resistance from the opposition benches when she said parents needed to “play a role in educating their own children” and “make sure their children are attending school and complying with the law to do so”.
It seems Greening does not care about the health or dignity of young women. She certainly does not show compassion in her actions. I sincerely hope there were no disadvantaged young women in her constituency of Putney, watching her speak so carelessly about their wellbeing. Every young woman should feel they have someone standing up for them.
The Secretary of State's response reflects how callous her government is when it comes to tackling period poverty. Attempts by the Conservatives to show they give a toss about anything are undermined when their Minister for Women and Equalities cannot show compassion for the poorest women and girls.
The Scottish government are miles ahead, providing free sanitary protection in food banks. Monica Lennon, Labour MSP for Central Scotland, has campaigned tirelessly for the shift in SNP policy. The campaign has been no less fierce in England, but the Conservatives continue to ignore the problem.
In 2017, girls missing out on their education because they can’t afford tampons is beyond unacceptable.
Why isn’t Justine Greening banging her fists on the table? Why doesn’t this make her want to weep? In her inaction, thousands of women are let down every single day.