Period poverty? Pull the other one

How do British MPs liven up politics during the notoriously boring month of August? They push to become world pioneers in fighting ‘period poverty’.

Scottish Labour MP Monica Lennon launched a consultation on a members’ bill earlier this week to introduce free access to sanitary products in Scotland. The bill, if passed, will see the introduction of free sanitary products for women in schools, colleges and universities – as well as for anyone else who needs them. Lennon has said the bill will give Scotland ‘the opportunity to be a world leader in ending period poverty’.

The bill comes a few months after a report suggesting that girls in the UK are skipping school during their periods because they have no access to hygienic sanitary products. On the basis of her work at a school in Leeds, West Yorkshire police chief Sara Barie claimed ‘many’ girls were having difficulty in sourcing sanitary products. There were individual incidents of girls being in financial difficulty, but even Barie said that ‘the number of girls facing these issues were difficult to quantify’.

Quite clearly, there is not a widespread, substantiated problem with ‘period poverty’. And yet, if Lennon’s bill is passed, ministers will have a legal duty to provide free sanitary products as a ‘basic right’.

If tampons are a basic right, I’d like to propose a few more hygiene products to be added to the bill. How about toilet roll? It costs us approximately 25p per roll for a supermarket brand – a product that your average (clean-ish) man and woman will use daily. Perhaps we should be lifting the lid on poo poverty? If women up and down the country are struggling to fork out one pound for a box of 32 tampons from popular supermarkets (that’s about 3p per tampon), then purses from Leeds to London must really be feeling the squeeze when it comes to loo roll. What about razors for teenage boys sprouting their first moustache, or teenage girls having their first battle with hairy legs? When I was 14 years old, I definitely considered having access to a razor the night before PE class to be a basic right.

The suggestion is that without a new law, young women will be forced to use rags during their periods. But is no concrete facts on how many women genuinely struggle to afford basic sanitary products. Of course, most people would welcome cheaper prices on everyday products. But the idea that young women are facing an undocumented crisis when it comes to managing their menstruation just doesn’t add up. The move to end ‘period poverty’ is at best cringey – at worst, it’s insulting. When it comes to the battles facing women, we have bigger fish to fry. There is no need for period politics in 21st-century Britain.

Emily Dinsmore is a writer and student.

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