Student unions within universities are usually seen as forces of change, where the more vocal amongst the student populace express their activism and change the way their university works.
Every so often it happens that student activism pushes the bar exceptionally high - a shining example being the student union at London's Brunel University. Their student union is set to make sanitary products free for female students, a move which is not just progressive, but speaks volumes about how menstruation is being viewed differently in our ever-changing society.
In granting women free sanitary products, Brunel's student union will be taking the first step in normalising our monthly flow. For far too long, women have been forced to feel ashamed, embarrassed and uncomfortable about their periods. We've sat through TV adverts for sanitary products feeling slightly on edge, usually while our families have awkwardly fidgeted while staring at the screen, or marvelled at women appearing unnaturally happy and care-free during their period. And it has certainly never helped that our periods have been shown hitting the sanitary pad in a colour resembling more blue than red. Last time I checked, I was definitely not bleeding blue.
We've have had to develop secret codes for talking about their periods in public but also, we've had to deal with the tampon tax, which saw tampons being considered 'luxury' products by the UK government. Although these tampons were packaged in pretty, frivolous ways to make us feel good about getting our period, they cruelly reminded us it was a privilege to buy something that would soak it up anyway.
In some cultures and religions, there is immense social stigma surrounding menstruation - it marks females out as being 'dirty', and often leaves women feeling isolated and excluded. In low-income countries, extreme poverty means that some women cannot go to school or work because of poor sanitation, lack of sanitary protection and yet again, more stigmas associated with having a period. Even on our own doorstep, female prisoners or those women who are homeless cannot protect themselves when they bleed every month. When you can't scrape the pennies together for food, purchasing sanitary products is last on your list of essentials.
It seems that the stigma surrounding periods - and the cost of having one - has become a trap produced by society, exclusively for women. Sometimes, it feels like a woman's cleanliness, health, happiness and self-esteem is controlled solely by the government.
Yet Brunel's student union scrapping the cost of sanitary products is one of the most progressive things I've heard in terms of tackling the cost of having a period. It is giving power back to female students. It also reflects a desire to change the world for women. That a female might start her period, visit the local pharmacy at Brunel University's campus and get herself a pad or tampon free of charge sounds life-changing to me, and it would make sense for the UK (and the world) to learn from this change.
Considering that condoms, dental dams and even the pill is available free courtesy of the NHS, I find it absurd that women are still paying for products to help us control something that is quite simply, out of our control. While periods can be endured without much hassle for some women, for others they are painful, distressing and most importantly, expensive. I see no reason why medical centres in the UK (and internationally) cannot provide women with free sanitary products which are essential for their health, hygiene and well-being.
There is something fundamentally wrong in a world where the higher powers are cashing in on our monthly periods and subtly undermining the female gender and its needs. It is not just a female right to be given access to free sanitary products, it's a human right. If Brunel's student union implement free sanitary products for their female students, it's a lesson for all.
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