A report published in July revealed how poverty-stricken families are forced to choose between eating and keeping clean in what has been described as a 'hidden crisis'. Charity, In Kind Direct, who led the report say that the problem is most acute amongst young people and that a growing number of young girls are struggling to afford essential hygiene products, including sanitary products, directly impacting on their health, dignity and life opportunities.
Earlier this year, the BBC reported the findings of a study that showed that girls as young as 11 were missing school every month for the simple reason that they couldn't afford to have a period. I decided to try and do something about it. I started a campaign and online petition on Change.Org called #FreePeriods, calling on the government to provide free sanitary products to girls in need.
Almost immediately, it became clear that this was a subject that divided signers into two distinct camps: for every person that who said they had experienced the pain of period poverty first hand, another two would express utter disbelief. Horror, exasperation and sadness were the overwhelming emotions that became the thread running through the stream of comments left on the petition. What is disturbing is that the comment, 'I was that girl', is repeated with disturbing frequency. This is chilling.
It's 2017. Period poverty isn't something we should be talking about. When a girl misses school every month, for days at a time, it's clear that her educational progress is irreparably impacted. Soon, any ambition starts to dissipate as her goals start to feel unattainable. The cycle of poverty keeps turning, refusing to loosen its grip. All because she's born with a uterus.
Since I started the campaign, women have contacted me to say that 20 years ago, they remember combing the back of the sofa looking for lost pennies to buy sanitary protection. It appears that not much has changed, as I see the same comments from young girls today. One girl explained how her mum would give them beans on toast for dinner on payday, and when it was just toast, she knew that money was scarce - what, then, was the point of asking for money for pads? She would improvise with old towels which she had torn up to use for her makeshift protection. For her, missing school was the only way to avoid the humiliation of leaking onto school uniform.
Those intrepid enough to risk going to school during their period and without adequate protection have confessed that during lessons, they would be disengaged and disconnected. Their minds would be plotting plans around how to exit the classroom without anyone spotting the blood leaked onto their skirt. These are accounts from girls who live in our neighbourhoods, who possibly attend our local schools.
There is enough evidence out there for this Government to acknowledge that a fundamental change in policy is needed. As a teenager myself, I know how challenging this period of our lives can be. The additional stress, lack of dignity and social isolation is something these girls can do without.
It's time for action. Please add your name to the petition on Change.org, donate sanitary products to your local foodbank, and write to your local MP demanding change.
Let's make ourselves heard. Period poverty must go.