Periods are expensive. People who have them will use, on average, about 11,000 sanitary products in their lifetime. For someone earning minimum wage, this means that you will have to spend roughly 38 full working days of your earnings on tampons and towels alone.
But that's not the only part of periods that we have to pay for. Anyone who's experienced one will also tell you that there's the cost of the painkillers, sweets, new bedding and underwear that you will need to make your period as comfortable as possible. Put together, this can end up making the cost of having a uterus around £18,000 over a lifetime.
Part of what makes periods so expensive is the "tampon tax" - the 5% tax on sanitary products, which classes them as "non-essential, luxury items". This puts them in the same tax bracket as alcoholic jellies, crocodile meat and "edible sugar flowers" (whatever those are). As someone who has had periods for the past 12 years - over half my life - I can tell you for a fact that I didn't opt into them, and they definitely aren't a luxury. So why are they taxed as if they are?
Last night, MPs voted against a move that would have forced the government to challenge the tampon tax. Parliament is dominated by people without wombs, people who will never experience periods. An overwhelmingly male government voted to carry on making money from our wombs, and although people of all genders have periods, this is yet another expense that disproportionately affects women.
I'm fortunate in that although the tampon tax angers me, I would never be actually priced out of a period. But there are many people who aren't so lucky. These people have to resort to unhealthy measures to manage their periods, such as "back-to-backing" the Pill in order to avoid having a period in the first place, or creating unhygienic , home-made alternatives to traditional sanitary products. This is something that can hit homeless people particularly hard, as highlighted by the campaign The Homeless Period.
Unfortunately I don't have any control over the tax brackets that are imposed on us, but as a sabbatical officer at a students' union, I do have the ability to try and alleviate the cost of periods to our students as much as possible. Because of this, I successfully campaigned to get students free access to sanitary products within our union. The feedback for this initiative has been overwhelmingly positive, with student newspaper The Tab calling it "the best thing the Guild has ever done" and our Women's Association crowning me "Queen of Tampons".
Despite being a natural bodily function that happens to over half of the population, periods are still seen as a taboo subject. They're seen as an embarrassment, a source of shame, and something we should keep quiet about. This needs to stop. We should be talking about our bodies, and the associated cost of them, so that we can move towards a society where we do not have to pay an extra charge just because we were born with a healthy uterus. If we can access contraception for free, why shouldn't the same apply to sanitary products? The cynic in me says that it's because contraception directly benefits men in a way that sanitary products don't, and something tells me that if men had periods we would be handing out tampons in their thousands.
But while we carry on working to this feminist utopia where our wombs aren't costing us £18,000, I urge other unions to follow suit and provide free sanitary products to their students. If you want any tips on how to do this, feel free to get in touch!