Welcome to #TRVSTLOVES. We curate news, ideas, and inspiration from across the world that demonstrate how real action can accomplish a positive social impact. This time, we’re looking at the progress made to tackle period poverty last year.
The start of last year was welcomed with another lockdown due to Covid, so it would have been easy to miss the announcement on the 1st January 2021 that the UK finally abolished tampon tax. This long-awaited news was a much-needed reason to celebrate for campaigns fighting hard for change, especially when you consider that the original commitment to remove tax on these items was first pledged by the treasury in 2016.
We were curious to know who instigated the successful campaign. It was, as perhaps expected, a woman: young activist Laura Coryton was a student at university when she first started up the cause. She was particularly passionate about how women’s sanitary wear was categorized as “nonessential,” and yet “private helicopters, crocodile meat, and bingo” are regarded as essential, and therefore non-taxable.
It’s quite shocking when you really think about it! Coryton now runs Sex Ed Matters, an organization that tackles sex and relationship taboos across schools in the UK.
In further positive news, additional funding, known as the Government’s Tampon Tax Fund, was later released in May 2021, encouraging charities to “support projects helping thousands of women and girls across the UK”. The funding available was for £11.25million, with 14 recipients of the grants announced in November of last year.
We took a little look at some of the successful candidates, including The BigGive, who have instigated The Women & Girls Match Fund for charities that are “working to improve the lives of vulnerable, disadvantaged or underrepresented women and girls in England and Scotland.”
The funding was allocated across a large spectrum of women’s issues, such as Tommy’s “Equality in miscarriage and pregnancy care,” a project which supports vulnerable or disadvantaged women who are at higer risk of pregnancy loss. You can find the whole list of successful recipients on the government website if you’re interested.
So while that’s a bit of an overview of what took place in the UK over the past year, what’s been going on in the wider world when it comes to period poverty?
Over in Australia, Melbourne City Council agreed earlier last year to invest in “a year-long scheme to combat period poverty throughout the metropolitan area.” It was agreed that free pads and tampons would be available in community spaces for those women unable to afford proper or adequate menstrual products. The discussion was summed up rather well at the Council meeting by Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece, who said: "Let’s face it, if blokes had periods, we would have done this decades ago.” The vote was, subsequently, passed unanimously.
The importance of this bill may have been supported by shocking stats related to period poverty in Australia. The Big Bloody Survey undertaken last year revealed that
“one in five Australians are using toilet paper, socks or other unsuitable alternatives to manage their periods because they can’t afford pads or tampons.”
Due to embarrassment, women were also less likely to admit that they were off sick due to period complications, such as conditions like endometriosis. Reflections on the survey included a need for better education around menstrual health, more realistic advertising of menstrual products, and better access to tampons and pads.
Over in Asia, we came across an article about raising awareness of period poverty in Japan and exploring relevant solutions. Some of the leading causes of period poverty in Japan can come from the secrecy and taboo surrounding menstruation. Also, many mothers who work part-time not do not receive full benefits: this can put them under financial pressure to afford sanitary products.
A survey undertaken by #Minna no Seiri (Menstruation for Everyone) revealed similar responses to those in Australia: “20.1% of respondents had difficulties buying sanitary items in the past year. 27.1% answered they used non-sanitary items such as toilet paper instead of menstrual pads to control their periods”. Given we are living in the 21st century, it’s pretty appalling that so many women still don’t have access to basic hygiene products.
Given the above, there has been a rise in the number of Japanese femtech companies looking to address these issues, focusing on increasing comfort and functionality. We particularly liked OiTr’s mission to provide free sanitary products in the local toilets of shopping malls, schools, and offices. Access to free items is given via a pre-downloaded app, and the organization has already received positive feedback from pilot runs.
Countries under a financial strain, like Lebanon, for example, would, as you’d expect, see these strains reflected in issues such as period poverty. Given the weakening currency, prices of many brands have more than quintupled, meaning that adequate sanitary wear for many women is just not an option.
It seems, though, that with every story of woe, there’s a story of the human spirit, and this is no exception. In response to the situation, a number of Lebanese women have been making and selling disposable pads. The same pad can be used for up to five years and reduce the burden many women and families face around menstruating.
Sales of this eco-friendly alternative are on the increase. However, there are still hurdles to overcome, including addressing misconceptions around the re-use of sanitary pads (from a hygiene perspective) and cost issues: the price of reusable pads makes them out of reach for many Lebanese women. Another issue, which will be the same for many underdeveloped countries, will be the lack of access to clean water and soap to wash the reusable pads.
With so many unresolved problems around menstruation, Jeyetna, the “Roaming Period Festival Around Lebanon,” took place in the summer of last year, a two-month event that raised awareness about period poverty, provided education around reproductive health, and offered free menstrual products. While it’s clear there’s such a long way to go, change is happening. Let’s just hope we see further momentum in 2022.
Sam produces our regular #TRVSTLOVES where she seeks out inspiration, news, and ideas from across the globe that both highlight and celebrate how actions can make for social and environmental change.
Sam is passionate about seeking out small businesses that are implementing remarkable and exciting projects to tackle the climate crisis; she enjoys exploring how their innovation will help change the future of our world.
A degree in English Literature from the University of Southampton has given Sam the research expertise to share and contextualize stories around innovative projects, legislation, and changemakers.