The impact of period poverty on schoolchildren, homeless women, refugees and asylum seekers was highlighted by a TUC Congress motion supported by PCS.
Motion 42 proposed by Tracey Fussey on behalf of the TUC Women’s Conference urged the TUC to make this issue one of its campaigning priorities until such time as access to sanitary provision becomes free for everyone at point of need.
Tracey said: “After 9 years of austerity period poverty is on the rise and it is a shocking fact that many have to choose between food or sanitary products.”
During a woman’s lifetime she will spend £18k on her periods, however for some women the impact of poverty, pay and welfare cuts can mean choosing between food or sanitary wear. Period poverty is real and predominately affects schoolchildren, homeless women, refugees and asylum seekers.
A Plan International study shows 10% of young women have been unable to afford period products, 12% have had to improvise with toilet paper or socks and over 137,700 have missed school because of period poverty.
It is simply not acceptable that girls are having to miss school because of not being able to afford basic sanitary products when they have their period. Nor is it acceptable for workers to have to suffer the indignity caused by having to use unsuitable and inappropriate non-sanitary wear products to cope with menstruation when they are doing their job. The CWU has been running its own very successful workplace-based campaign on period poverty and we believe the time is right for a more co-ordinated labour movement campaign and action plan to be led by the TUC.
Heather McKenzie from the NEU said we need to support the provision of free sanitary products for all.
“The time is now to smash this financial poverty trap,” she said.
Organise and educate
Simon Weller from Aslef said we need to educate and organise to ensure period dignity for all.
PCS delegate Louise Kowalska spoke in support of the motion and said the language and euphemisms around periods needed to change to stop women from being disempowered.
She highlighted our union’s campaign on the issue, including securing a pledge to tackle period poverty from the Scottish Government which has officially lodged a period poverty bill at the Scottish Parliament to ensure free access to sanitary products for all women.
“This is a non-contentious issue, we all need to support the campaign against period poverty,” she said.
The motion commended the Scottish Government for introducing schemes to offer access to free period products to low-income families and in educational institutions. It also commends the Welsh government for ring-fencing £1m for free sanitary products for those most in need. Sadly, there has been no indication for any such moves in the rest of the UK.
Bridie McCreesh from Unite said that all “backward or Stone Age employers should be put on notice that they will be named and shamed if they do not act on this issue.”
“Support the dignity of women and young girls,” she said,
The motion, carried unanimously, called on the TUC General Council to:
i. lobby the government to provide free sanitary wear to low-income families, schools, colleges, universities and homeless shelters
ii. encourage affiliates to raise the issue of period poverty with members asking them to lobby their MPs for policy change
iii. champion the work of charities such as the Red Box Project and Bloody Good Period.