There have been so many stories in the news recently in celebration of International Women’s Day on 08 March – stories celebrating the wonderful female entrepreneurs who have overcome personal setbacks against the odds to succeed and it is great that we continue to look to such role models. Success stories can however mask the uncomfortable, and frankly unacceptable, issue that more and more girls in the UK are now having to deal with, namely, period poverty.
In a study conducted by Plan International UK on period poverty in August 2017 based on the Opinium Research survey of representative weighted sample of 1,000 girls and young women aged 14-21, carried out on line, the results showed that:
- 10% (1 in 10 girls) have been unable to afford sanitary products
- 15% (1 in 7 girls) have struggled to afford sanitary products
- 14% (1 in 7 girls) have had to ask to use sanitary products from a friend due to affordability issues
- 12% (more than 1 in ten girls) has had to improvise sanitary wear due to affordability issues
- 19% (one in 5 girls) have changed to a less suitable sanitary product due to cost.
The above is not just a case of being ill-prepared or being caught out on the day the cycle starts; it is purely down to the financial cost of buying sanitary products. In the UK and in the 21st century!!
For years women campaigned to get VAT removed from sanitary products – ever since 1973 when it was introduced when we joined the EEC. The so-called ‘Tampon Tax’ was due to be abolished in April 2018 as per legislation passed two years earlier in 2016, but as with so many budget promises, it fell by the wayside and it will now be January 2022 at the earliest before the removal of the 5% VAT comes into effect (unless we manage to exit the EU and sort out all associated regulations before then.)
There has however, been some good news from Chancellor Phillip Hammond when on 13 March in his Spring Statement he announced that sanitary products are to be given out for free in secondary schools across England from September. We wait to see if it happens.
“If you had to choose between buying sanitary wear or eating, which would you choose?”
Stark and shocking, the opening statement of a Period Poverty awareness poster from the Red Box Project, a not-for-profit organisation that helps provide school-age girls with free tampons and sanitary pads. The poster also covers off not only the above financial issues that girls in the UK are facing, but also some of the stigma that persists around periods such as almost half (48%) of girls feel embarrassed by having periods and almost 71% feeling embarrassed at buying sanitary products.
While we regularly hear debates in the news about the best age to introduce sex education in primary schools, it’s disconcerting to read that 14% (1 in 7 girls) admitted that they did not know what was happening when they started their period and more than a quarter (26%) reported that they did not know what to do when they had their first period. Amazingly, 1 in 10 girls had been asked NOT to talk about their periods in front of their mother.
Perhaps not so surprising is the number of girls missing PE or sports because of their period (64%) and 52% made up a lie or excuse as to the reason. Skipping a lesson is less of an issue when compared to the 49% of girls who have missed an entire day of school. In a recent interview on The Russell Howard Hour, Alesha Dixon spoke passionately about her charity work for Period Poverty. “I can’t work out for the life of me why you can get free condoms or you’ve got food banks, but why any young girl has to miss school because of something as simple as that.” She continued, “I think the government has a massive part to play because when someone is missing out on an education because of their basic needs not being met, then that’s terrible!”
The Red Box Project, co founded by three friends in 2017, has already grown to over 2,100 active Red Boxes in schools across the UK with a further 400+ worldwide as the projects expands internationally to include the USA, Canada and New Zealand but as a volunteer-led organisation, it needs constant support to ensure a regular supply to those in need.
Inspired by the work of the Red Box Project, another young female entrepreneur has partnered with them this year to raise more money. Founder of Fempowerment Katie Anderton explained her decision to get involved this year at a launch event on International Women’s Day:
“With hardships in the UK more evident than ever, it’s we, the people, who need to take action together to do something about this major issue,” says Fempowerment founder Katie Anderton. “That’s why I have partnered with The Red Box Project and pledged to donate 20% of all profits from our Code Red and Red Alert t-shirt campaign to support their cause.”
“Missing vital education in their younger years could mean women entering work for the first time start out on the back foot, in an environment where they often already feel vulnerable to inequality.” She continued, “This is something we can prevent. By providing the products they need to alleviate embarrassment or anxiety each month, we can ensure these girls and young women are receiving the full education they’re entitled to.”
Code Red and Red Alert t-shirts are now available to order from thisisfempowerment.com – by purchasing a t-shirt you will contribute toward Fempowerment’s donation to help young women in need and support The Red Box Project in their mission to continue to provide sanitary products to all who need them until the Government steps in to do so.
Fempowerment is a clothing and accessories brand, designed with ambitious women in mind. Created by a #GirlBoss with the vision and aspiration to inspire and motivate other kick-ass women to soar to the top and reach their goals, Fempowerment was founded in 2018 by Katie Anderton after experiencing first hand how the world of work can be rife with inequality. The company aims to partner with at least 1 major charity per year, to help raise awareness and donate a proportion of profits to the cause.
The Red Box Project is a not-for-profit organisation founded in 2017 by Clegg Bamber and Anna Miles. Their mission is to assist with providing sanitary products to schools for young women and girls in need, until the government officially addresses the issue. There are currently more than 2500 active Red Boxes thanks to the project, in 8 countries (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, USA, Canada and New Zealand) and two crown dependencies (Isle of Man and Jersey).