Recently, something amazing has happened. The House of Lords and Commons have been discussing ways of tackling period poverty. On an increasingly regular basis, politicians from all political parties have been debating policy changes that will help to widen access of sanitary products to those who need it most. This subject has never been discussed inside the walls of Parliament on such a thorough basis. Ever. This has made history, and it will benefit women up and down the country. That's pretty amazing.
Here's a brief overview of recent parliamentary action, geared to ending period poverty. Period:
13th March 2017
Labour MP Helen Goodman asked a written question in the House of Commons (found here). She boldly and simply questioned the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions: 'whether the Government offers any provision of female sanitary products for women who consider themselves unable to afford such products'.
Boom. Period taboo smashed. Period poverty challenged. Practical solution to help women, proposed.
In response, Conservative Minister Damian Hinds admitted: 'Benefits administered by DWP do not include a specific amount for sanitary products, just as they do not include a specific amount for any other item such as food or fuel charges. Instead, an "applicable amount" is set through legislation passed by Parliament for each benefit'.
Although this isn't a totally positive answer, it is positive that answers are being given and that this issue is being seriously considered by the Conservatives. A small step, but an important and unprecedented one nonetheless.
14th March 2017
14th March marked an extremely important day for women. For the first time in history, the House of Lords debated sanitary product provision, other than in relation to tampon-tax-ending legislation. Liberal Democrat Baroness Burt of Solihull said something absolutely amazing in the House of Lords:
'I wonder if the Minister saw the story in the Metro yesterday about a charity which sends sanitary products to girls in Africa being asked if it could donate some to girls in Leeds who are bunking off school each month because they cannot afford sanitary products to wear to school. I am sure that the Minister will agree that this is a shocking state of affairs, where low-income girls and women cannot afford hygiene products during their period. We cannot have that in this country. So perhaps I may make a suggestion for the Government to consider. Could we not give sanitary towels to girls who qualify for free school meals? We already know who they are, and the cost of setting up the system would, I am sure, be very small. It would mean that all girls in school could confidently attend school all month round without having to worry about the embarrassment of their period letting them down.'
Baroness Burt, I second every word. I'm sure many others will, too. Interestingly, the debate didn't stop there. Later, a Conservative Lord reinforced Baroness Burt's arguments. Lord Porter of Spalding said: 'I want to sit down on a happy note. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, right at the beginning of the debate, made one of the best suggestions I have heard in here, which is to allow girls on free school meals access to free sanitary products. If there is a way of exploring that, I would welcome it, and I hope my noble friend the Minister can at least ask whether it is feasible'.
The Lords are backing practical solutions to ending period poverty and protecting our schoolgirls. That's big. And important. With their support, we're ever closer to tackling period poverty.
15th March 2017:
This timeline could go on and on, but finally, I want to mention period-focused Early Day Motion (found here) that was proposed by Liberal Democrat MP Greg Mulholland: the first of its kind proposed by a male politician. Awesome. EDMs are a way for politicians to register an interests in a particular initiative or policy. His reads:
'FREE PROVISION OF SANITARY PRODUCTS FOR GIRLS FROM LOW-INCOME FAMILIES
Primary sponsor: Mulholland, Greg
Sponsors: Mak, Alan Stephens, Christopher Meale, Alan Lucas, Caroline Cunningham, Jim
That this House is deeply concerned that girls in the UK are missing time in school because of a lack of access to sanitary products; recognises the unaffordable cost of sanitary products for some low-income individuals and families; notes that this is a hidden problem that some girls may find difficult to discuss, and as such the number of girls affected is likely to be higher than any estimates available; and calls on the Government to take immediate action to ensure that girls are not prevented from going to school because they do not have access to sanitary products, including the provision of free sanitary products for those girls needing them and the automatic entitlement to free sanitary products for girls receiving free school meals.'
It has been signed by 13 MPs so far. The more support an EDM attracts from politicians the more seriously it is handled and the greater effect it can have on policy. If you want to ask your MP to sign Mulholland's EDM and support the idea of providing low-income schoolgirls with the sanitary products they need, then you can do so by following this link.
These efforts support those of longterm-period-poverty-fighting-parliamentary-superheroes (not the most catchy superhero name but it does the job) such as Stella Creasy MP who has fought for the end of tampon tax since she was at school and continues to do so as a Labour politician. Baroness Dawn Primarolo must also be mentioned. She's the woman we can thank for the reduction of tampon tax to 5% in 2001. Finally, Shadow Minister Paula Sherriff brought forward the successful technical case for ending tampon tax in 2016 and has worked tirelessly to end period poverty across a variety of initiatives, too.
There are many politicians across all parties who do great work for us. But Parliament hasn't traditionally chosen to tackle period poverty. This change in attitude is important. And it has been driven by the generations of everyday superheroes/campaigners who have pushed for it. This cultural shift will benefit the thousands of girls who cannot afford sanitary products and the homeless who are not provided with the menstrual support they need. Moreover, it will also help to tackle the wider period taboo, encourage women to speak more freely about their bodies and related injustices and feel less alienated by the political elite.
You can help this progression by urging your MP to continue the trend of raising period-poverty-focused questions, early day motions and statutory instruments within Parliament. Period. To do so, you can write to your MP following this link. This cultural shift marks the beginning of a whole world of changes that will help women everywhere.
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