We spoke to Dr Maria Tomlinson, a fellow at the University of Sheffield, about what period poverty is, how the pandemic has exacerbated this issue and how things can change moving forward.
Dr Tomlinson said: “(Period poverty) is a term that the media came up with a few years ago and from their perspective it’s about people’s struggle to afford period products.
“But actually, a lack of access to products isn’t just based on financial concerns. It’s also about education, for example people not knowing the right products for them or not being able to access products because they can’t talk to their parents about it. Stigma and lack of education in schools have a huge effect.”
This is a problem that affects a wide range of people. Plan International showed that before the pandemic 3/10 women lived in period poverty and that post pandemic this had risen to 4/10.
But Dr Tomlinson argues these statistics dont give a full impression of how period poverty affects people’s day to day lives.
She said: “If a young girl has a period but she doesn’t have the products in school, or maybe even doesn’t feel like she can go to school, her education is affected. Poor quality period products are also a factor as they can affect your concentration in class.”
In England, schools are supposed to provide free sanitary products but only 40% of schools have signed up for the scheme.
Dr Tomlinson spoke to both teachers and students at schools where products have been provided.
Some teachers spoke of poor quality products, for example either thin panty liners which didn’t cover enough or thick pads that were uncomfortable to do sports in, whilst the students were more concerned with where these products were being placed.
One school had a product box in the middle of the common room and the student told Dr Tomlinson that they were embarrassed about being perceived as poor.
This shows how there is not just a stigma around periods that needs breaking down but a stigma around poverty as well.
Dr Tomlinson said: “There’s no information that comes with the product on how to distribute them and where to put them.
“They are basically throwing products at what is a complex social issue and not addressing the whole problem.”