WHY AREN’T SCHOOLS SIGNING UP TO GET FREE PERIOD PRODUCTS FOR THEIR STUDENTS?

Making period products free in schools

Activists and organisations in the UK have been asking politicians to make period products free, and in January 2020, they listened. Earlier this year, the government announced that they would provide free period products for schools and colleges across the country. But the schools have to sign up to the scheme and order the products themselves, and so far, only 41% of schools have joined. That means that 59% of schools are not taking advantage of the free menstrual products that are available, and there could be students in those schools continuing to suffer from period poverty. 

59% of schools are not taking advantage of the free menstrual products that are available, and there could be students in those schools continuing to suffer from period poverty. 

Period poverty

Over the course of a year, 137,700 children in the UK miss school because of period poverty: they don’t have access to menstrual products, often due to financial constraints. Not only does this have an impact on the quality of education that children who menstruate receive, but it also increases the inequality between those who can afford to menstruate comfortably, and those who cannot. In order to achieve period parity, all people who menstruate need to have safe and equal access to, and education about, menstrual products. 

environmenstrual week

Over the course of a year, 137,700 children in the UK miss school because of period poverty

Period product scheme

The scheme allocates a budget to each school or college, based on 35% of the pupils they have whose legal gender is female, and who are likely to have started their period. This number was taken from studies based on a similar scheme in Scotland. 

By December 2020, the money allocated for this year will be reset, and the schools that have not taken advantage of it, will lose out on the money they were allotted for this year. It is important that as many schools as possible sign up to the scheme because this project is a great step in eradicating period poverty in schools.  

Providing free menstrual products to young people means their education will not be affected by their periods. Knowing that they have  access to menstrual products allows students to concentrate on their studies, and removes the financial burden of having to buy the products themselves.

Reusable period products

Schools can choose between period pads, environmentally friendly period pads, reusable period pads, applicator or non-applicator tampons and menstrual cups. Whilst the disposable options might be cheaper for the schools initially, in the long run they are financially beneficial not just for the institutions but also for the students. The reusable pads and menstrual cups can be used for many years, if cared for correctly. They can be used during school holidays and weekends, when the students are not at school. Choosing reusable menstrual products is also better for the environment, producing less waste, and better for the health of the students, as many disposable menstrual products contain toxic ingredients that are harmful to the body. Over time, the school will also decrease their orders of products if students continue to use reusable products. 

However, reusable menstrual products are not always easy to use for students. Many schools and colleges do not have individual toilets with sinks so that students can wash out their reusable menstrual cups with privacy. And if reusable pads are saturated before the end of the day, students might feel uncomfortable to carry them around in their bags until the end of the day. They might not have the possibility of washing them correctly at home. 

Over the course of a year, 137,700 children in the UK miss school because of period poverty

In order to overcome these difficulties, schools should make it easier for students to use reusable period products. By promoting the scheme, and the reusable products, schools can reduce the taboo around menstruating, and make it normal for students to wash their cups at school. Hopefully by talking openly about periods with students, they can become more normalised and the stigma eliminated. It is important that students feel comfortable asking for help when they need it with menstruation. 

This Environmenstrual week, Wen are encouraging everyone to become a period activist! It’s really easy to write to your local MP (they’re there to represent you!) and ask them to take a more active role in getting their local schools and colleges signed up to this scheme. WEN are also running Environmenstrual workshops which can help inform participants about the pros and cons of disposable menstrual products! We want the government to show they are serious about making period poverty a thing of the past, by standing up for people who menstruate and using their power to make sure everyone can access free, safe and hygienic menstrual products. 

Amelie Eckersley

 

 

 

Amelie is a writer and researcher based in Berlin. She writes on the topics of gender, health, reproduction and climate change. 

Find out more about Environmenstrual Week

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