We at The Political Medway need time to drink these coffees that some of you wonderful people have bought us, and sometimes there’s a topic that we think doesn’t need another man to talk about it. Either way welcome to a series of Wednesday Guest Posts..
Back in September Medway Council’s public health team commissioned a survey of local teenagers, in which it was highlighted that as many as 1 in 5 young people know of a peer who had taken time off school due to not enough access to sanitary products.
Think about that for a moment. Young women, not going to school because they don’t have adequate sanitary protection.
Young women in Medway, missing out on school, and presumably family and social events too, because they don’t have the money or support to purchase sanitary towels, tampons or pads.
It’s a figure that astounds, embarrasses and saddens me.
Young girls and women around you are dreading the one week a month they will need these products. They are using folded up toilet tissue or cloths. They are ashamed of their situation and of people finding out, and so they stay at home while they wait for their period to pass.
When I was asked to write about this I thought I was pretty clued up.
I’m a woman.
I have periods.
I have heard of period poverty.
Check, check, check.
What I didn’t realise was that, in Medway, back in April, Labour councillors attempted to pass a motion stating that all local schools should provide free menstrual protection to any girl who is eligible for free school meals (they were also asking for central government to copy this model across the country).
Brilliant idea, yes? It would ensure that the majority of our young women who struggle with these purchases would have safe access to these essential products when they needed them (there would also need to be a discussion about those girls not in mainstream education as it’s all too easy for them to be overlooked).
But, to my amazement, when I went to find out what date this motion had been agreed I found that our serving Conservative council had voted down the plans and were not supporting this project. They justified this decision by saying sanitary products are available at food banks, and in some schools. But this just isn’t good enough.
Why should a student have to ask her school receptionist or other member of staff for these products? Why should they have to find and attend a food bank? Why can’t we make sure that these products are available in every toilet, in every school (primary and secondary), so that they can be accessed exactly when and where needed.
I repeat, it’s not good enough.
Our government continue to do women a disservice in many ways, but taxing, and therefore hiking up the prices, of essential products like sanitary towels (currently 5% tax is added to all sanitary products) because, and I quote they are “luxury / non-essential” items, is the cherry on the very ugly pie!
I would like to implore our local councillors to look again at this subject. We need to increase education around menstruation for all young people. Finally moving away from this being a hushed, taboo subject only ever whispered about in corners. We need to make sure that our young women have safe places to not only access sanitary protection, but also to ask questions and get good support about their bodies and their health. On top of that we should be supporting the use of reusable sanitary protection like cloth pads and menstrual cups so that our younger generation can make huge differences in the environmental impact of disposable alternatives.
Conservative Councillor Adrian Gulvin stated this month that the figures in the report I mentioned at the beginning turned out to be a “gross exaggeration”.
He single handedly dismissed the fact that our young people are facing real issues. No matter how well he thinks Medway is doing, if one young woman is missing education, hiding at home, ashamed and unsure where to go for help, that is too many.
While I think it’s absolutely appropriate that a conservative council, made up almost exclusively of middle aged, middle class, white men makes life changing decisions about young women’s menstrual health (erm..), I ask Mr. Gulvin and our other Conservative councillors, to think about their daughters, their nieces, their neighbours and their constituents and rethink their stand point on this.
There are plenty of charities and local organisations willing and ready to help you fix this problem and help give our young people one less thing to worry about.
Please don’t try to dampen down the conversation by telling us some schools have places to access sanitary products.
Please don’t throw period poverty statistics at us and say Medway is fine because we are doing slightly better than the national average. Let’s make sure every single girl and woman who needs this support gets it.
Every. Single. One.
Vicki Sigston is an Antenatal Practitioner and Breastfeeding Counsellor currently living in Medway. She and her husband have 2 boys that they home educate with support from Medway’s incredible home ed community. You can follow her work life on Facebook and Instagram.
Vicki has a website called Mum of 2 Boys that she likes to post (hopefully) useful bits and pieces on too. She also suffers with a chronic condition called Endometriosis and she shares her journey with all of that here.
It’s not the place of this humble impartial blog to decide if the council’s attitude on period poverty is right or wrong. It’s wrong. That’s why we got a guest writer in.
What do you think? Is young women having periods something you prefer not to think about whether they are missing school or not. Do you believe it can’t be an issue if they have access to smart phones, as some local politicians have declared? They can just use moss and or tissue paper, right? As usual, leave us a comment, a Facebook post or a tweet.