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Periods Don’t Stop for a Pandemic

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SYP’s Bounce Back campaign calls for a human rights based approach to the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Poverty is one of the key themes of this campaign, and, as I’ll explain below, period poverty has been exacerbated for young people throughout the pandemic. This needs to be rectified.

Period poverty is an issue that SYP has tirelessly campaigned about for a long time now. The unanimous passing of the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill in November 2020, which places a legal duty on local authorities to ensure that period products are available to anyone who needs them, was a monumental achievement for SYP, and all those who we campaigned alongside.

However, in the early chaos of the pandemic, with our nation facing miles of empty supermarket toilet roll shelves, the nearby period products were far too easily forgotten. Research by Plan International UK conducted in March 2020 found that over 1 in 5 girls who could afford period products were struggling to access them, with 64% saying this was due to being unable to find them in the shops [1].  Furthermore, Plan International UK also found that pre-pandemic over 40% of people they surveyed used toilet roll as they could not afford period products, further worsening people’s ability to hygienically deal with their period.

Although the scarcity of toilet paper, soap and pasta were regularly reported on, equally essential period products were forgotten by some of the public and the media. But they weren’t forgotten by the 1/3 girls and women aged 14-21 who were directly impacted as they struggled to access or afford sanitary products during the pandemic, according to Plan International UK. Access to period products during the pandemic has been a struggle for many people due to tightened budgets and lack of access to schools and other places where free products are available.

The widespread extent of the issue is clear to see. The charity Bloody Good Period (BGP) have reported that they are supplying almost six times as many period products now, compared to before the pandemic [2]. These were often distributed through food banks. Many young people and their families have been negatively financially impacted by the pandemic, with around a fifth of Lockdown Lowdown survey respondents who were in full-time employment experiencing a reduction in hours and 8% losing their jobs [3]. Due to the high numbers of young people employed in the tourism and hospitality industries the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on young people’s employment and thus will have impacted their financial situation. BGP also noted an increase in university students requesting products, often due to a change in employment status or having to self-isolate.

However, there have been some positive examples of organisations stepping up to support young people who need access to period products.

  • Some Scottish universities, such as Glasgow and Edinburgh had already been providing period product support, allowing students access to essential sanitary products. However, like in most secondary schools in Scotland, these products are kept in the institution’s bathrooms, and thus when closures happened in March and again in December, they were inaccessible to those who needed them.
  • There are also some local initiatives to help deal with the issue, such as the Tampon Taxi in Perth and Kinross, which delivers period products to those in need [4]. The Tampon Taxi operates under the principles of period dignity which focuses on giving people choice, making products easy to access and reducing stigma.
  • One of Trustees here at SYP, Erin Campbell MSYP, helped by sending out period products to those in need, with orders easily placed by an online form.

Period dignity is a human right, covered under the right to health, the right to work, and the right to education, which often is undermined due to period poverty and no access to proper sanitation. Thus, by taking a human rights based approach to this issue, as our Bounce Back campaign aims to do, all people in need of period products will be able to access them with ease, without stigma and with the period dignity they deserve.

References:

[1] https://plan-uk.org/period-poverty-in-lockdown

[2] https://www.bloodygoodperiod.com/post/it-s-very-upsetting-that-they-think-3p-will-make-a-difference

[3] https://syp.org.uk/our-work/political-work/covid-19-lockdown-lowdown/

[4] https://www.facebook.com/PKAVSTamponTaxi/

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