Campaigning for free menstrual products – a personal perspective

PCS rep Nadine Gorman highlights her own campaign for free menstrual products in her workplace and argues they should be available to all women in all workplaces 

I’m standing in my office toilet, I’m really annoyed and aggressively washing my hands. I’ve been caught out and I’m pretty angry at myself at this point. As I’m standing there trying to figure a way to manage the situation without having to do the office walk of shame, asking my colleagues if they have a tampon or a sanitary towel they can give me; it’s depressing, it’s embarrassing and I’m not the only one who’s ever done it here. It’s a regular occurrence.

In 2018 there is no provision in this office for menstrual products, in the context of a year where there have been regular awareness campaigns about the tampon tax and period poverty – menstruating people in my organisation can’t even be overcharged for a tampon that doesn’t fit their needs and has been sitting in the machine for 6 years. It’s at this point I stop being angry at myself and use the anger that’s now focused on my organisation, to motivate myself to make a change.

First thing I do is speak to my union colleague; the health and safety rep, I state that we need menstrual provision, we chat it through and agree that menstrual provision is a necessity. I ask for them to be provided for free, Scottish Government is doing it, as are universities, even train stations. Why can’t we? My colleague speaks with the health and safety lead in our organisation, she loved the idea.

Wanted and needed

I start calling my colleagues in other sites, I need to know what provisions they have in place. Every time I speak to a woman in the organisation the realisation that we have all been making do, risking our health physically, mentally and emotionally for a provision that should be in place sets in and they are eager for change. When I speak to men they flit between surprise and avoidance, but ultimately, they are supportive of the change. Access to menstrual products in our offices is wanted and needed.

I anticipated there would be resistance to implementing free menstrual products in the office, I started researching what I needed to know to make my case and ensure that menstrual products would be available to all staff across the organisation.  I analysed the average cost of individual menstrual products and compared that with organisation head count. I then factored in the average number of times people purchase from public machines, considering average age, it would cost our organisation £1.29 per menstruating person on average to put this support in place. To put in place a policy of free products across our organisation that also included the public use sites, would cost less than £200 per year, a marginal cost to support the physical, mental and emotional health of menstruating workers. I proposed a system where the organisation purchased and provided various menstrual products for free but operated on an honesty system where those who could and wanted to could replace the product that they used.

I was very lucky with this campaign, I was supported by my work and union colleagues, our management was very supportive of the idea, very little resistance was encountered.  The resistance that was encountered was cultural from people who felt “embarrassed” or didn’t “have to think about female issues” before. By providing free menstrual products these cultural resistances will be challenged, menstruation will eventually no longer be stigmatized, and providing free products as normal as soap for washing your hands. I think that it is important that menstrual products are provided free in work places for so many personal, social and political reasons, but to sum up it is because menstruating isn’t a choice and having free access to menstrual products means that all people who menstruate, those of whom are mostly women, especially on lower wages aren’t risking their health to work. My hope is that this campaign will be successful not only in the day to day lives of my colleagues, but help my organisation take steps towards true equity for all workers.

Because of this campaign my organisation has committed to providing free menstrual products to all staff and visitors to our public sites access to free menstrual products as standard practice beginning in April 2018. I am confident this will make a difference to the overall wellbeing of staff in the short and long term.

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