'Period poverty': England to fund free sanitary products for school and college girls

Women's sanitary products on sale at a small pharmacy in London. Source: AP

The British government has vowed to fund free sanitary products for school and college students.

England will fund free sanitary products for school and college students after teachers raised concern that some girls were skipping lessons during their period because they could not afford to buy tampons and pads.

Britain’s finance minister Philip Hammond told parliament the government would fund the sanitary products for school and college students across England after teachers raised concerns that some students were skipping class during their period.

"I have decided to fund the provision of free sanitary products in secondary schools and colleges in England from the next school year," Mr Hammond said in a budget update. 

 Awareness of “period poverty” is rising globally - the latest move comes days after Meghan Markle made headlines when she became the first British royal to speak out on the issue at an event marking International Women’s Day.

Feminine hygiene products are restocked at a supermarket.
Feminine hygiene products are restocked at a supermarket.

However, charities said providing free tampons and pads was not enough.

“Free products won’t solve things if girls are too embarrassed to talk about their periods or don’t understand how their bodies work,” said Lucy Russell of children’s charity Plan International UK.

“We urgently need education and training for girls, schools and parents to help tackle the stigma around periods.”

 A survey by Plan International also found that 10 percent of girls in Britain alone had been unable to afford sanitary products.

More than 137,700 girls missed school in 2017 due to “period poverty”, according to a survey by sanitary pad manufacturer Always quoted by the Independent newspaper.

The survey, also found a quarter of all young women had at some point been forced to use tissues or cotton wool, or double up on underwear, because they did not have sanitary products.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which works to solve poverty in Britain, also said the move did not go far enough.

“The chancellor [finance minister] is right to recognize that people going without essentials such as sanitary products is morally unacceptable,” said executive director Claire Ainsley.

Earlier this month Britain launched a global period poverty fund and taskforce to help all women and girls access sanitary products by 2050.

 Tampons are restocked at a supermarket.
Tampons are restocked at a supermarket.

Half of all women and girls in poor countries are estimated to have to use rags, cloths, grass and paper during their periods since many cannot afford to buy sanitary products.

Menstruation is still taboo in many countries. In Nepal, the centuries-old Hindu practice of “chhaupadi”, where women are banished from their homes during their periods, has led to four deaths since the start of the year.

“No student should miss out on their education because they can’t access period products. Ending period poverty will empower girls everywhere,” said Laura McClinton of Girlguiding, a British charity for girls and young women.

The government’s measures will take effect from the start of the next school year in September 2019.

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