by Lucy Ndlovu
When Beyoncé’s hit song Freedom was given a new lease of life in September on International day of the Girl this year as part of the Global Goals campaign 2030, it generated a lot of interest and helped raise awareness of the #Freedomforgirls campaign.
The Global Goals campaign 2030 is backed by Melinda Gates foundation and UNICEF and Freedomforgirls campaign is aimed at supporting women’s movements around the world. Global challenges faced by girls like Human trafficking ; FGM ;no access to education ; child marriages, are depicted on the video by young girls from all over the world –with a more defiant message , demanding change – It is all about Female Empowerment .
Global women issues need not be endorsed by celebrities for them to be recognised and this was the case of the Period Poverty campaign that was highlighted in the UK on Women’s International day earlier this year.
The Period Poverty Campaign
Tina Leslie, a public health Practitioner from Leeds, and a coordinator for a charity (coincidently called Freedom4Girls) which provides sanitary products to schoolgirls in Kenya admitted that the charity had also been called to help out with the crisis in Leeds she said in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s woman’s hour. She highlighted that girls were missing school because they could not afford sanitary protection and that they were forced to use alternative methods like tissues or socks in an attempt to attend school. In some extreme cases, teachers even purchased the sanitary protection for some of their students from low income families.
That interview sparked a period poverty campaign which gained momentum and generated a lot of interest in the media and raised public awareness culminating in politicians discussing the issue in parliament calling for sanitary products to be given out for free to young girls in need.
Intrigued by this campaign, and unaware of this crisis in my own city of Leeds, I arranged to meet up with Tina for a chat to gain more understanding about from a Public Relations standpoint. After exchanging pleasantries, she indicated that following the interviews her life had become extremely busy with media appearances booked up and down the country.
Tina told of how she initially became involved with Freedom4Girls charity a few years ago, and until recently had been providing reusable sanitary products to schools in Kenya. There, the charity ran workshops, educated and employed local women to make reusable pads, which were then distributed to local schools. Reusable sanitary products last longer and are environmentally friendly. This was a more sustainable way of supporting the community.
Here in the UK, the charity was aware of the issue among the homeless women but had also seen that it was prevalent amongst struggling families with low incomes and among the unemployed.
Tina mentioned that she volunteered in different Foodbank locations in Leeds where they handed out ‘Hygiene Packs’ and there had been an increase in demand.
Period poverty campaign has been met with disbelief and scepticism. A lot of unanswered questions have been raised. Where is the research to support this? How many people have been affected? Is this a nationwide problem? Why has it never been raised before? It was unthinkable that in that in 2017 this was an issue in the UK.
Tina acknowledged that at the time, more research was need from schools, universities and she did not know how big the issue was but she knew enough to say that it was not shocking that in Leeds, schools had called the Freedom4Girls charity and asked for help and she felt that this was the tip of an iceberg.
One of the many contributing factors that led to the hidden crisis to the issue of period poverty is the taboo that surrounds periods, making it difficult to address the crisis properly. The stigma and myths that exist around the periods have prevented any open discussions as this is still considered a private topic.
Another factor is affordability. All sanitary products carry a 5 % levy, commonly referred to as the Tampon tax which adds to the overall cost. Tampon Tax has been criticised by campaigners as HM and Revenue and customs (HMRC) categorises these products as ‘’ non-essential, luxury’’. The classification of sanitary products as a luxury item has been labelled ‘sexist’ tax, generating lot of publicity and on -line protests.
‘Periods are no luxury. You can opt-in to extravagance’. Laura Coryton, Founder of the Tampon Tax campaign in the UK.
Where we are now
What is happening with the campaign now? A lot! Below are some of the ongoing and proposed actions that are making this campaign a success.
- Abolition of the EU set 5% VAT Tampon Tax was backed by MPs in 2016 but not likely to be implemented until 2018 due to Brexit.
- The Labour Party has pledged £10 Million in its election Manifesto to tackle period Poverty and will spend it in schools in England.
- Green party and the Lib Dem Party have both promised free sanitary products for pupils and women in low incomes
- The Scottish government is currently piloting an initiative to offer free sanitary products from August 2017. The pilot Is targeted to reach at least 1000 women. Data collected will be useful to make a make the case for a nationwide rollout.
- Supermarkets like Tesco, and Waitrose cut prices on many sanitary products and effectively removing tax.
- World’s first government-backed scheme to tackle period poverty in Aberdeen Scotland. A £42,500 pilot run by the community Food Initiatives North East (CFINE) will offer free sanitary products for 6 months from August 2017.
- Plan International UK did a survey in August 2017 a sample of 1,000 girls, 14-21 year olds and have published the findings below.
- 10% had been unable to afford sanitary wear
- 15% had struggled to afford sanitary wear
- 14% had to ask to borrow sanitary wear from a friend due to affordability issues
- 19% had changed to a less suitable sanitary product due to cost
Growth in Grass root campaigns and public Interest
- The first UK Period poverty summit held in October 2017 in Leeds. A summit hosted by Plan International UK, Freedom4Girls and No more Taboo. The summit was attended by political figures, education, health representatives, journalists and a variety of Grass root campaigners.
- Increase in donation stations and campaigns all Over the UK. Example here is the #endperiodpoverty campaign run by our very own Leeds Beckett student Union.
Call for action
The Period Poverty campaign from a public relations perspective has been effective and has raised awareness and highlighted social injustices that need to be tackled.
Issues like, Inequality (is a tampon a luxurious item?); Homelessness, (how do they access these essential products?); Education and safeguarding (girls missing school) and Health (conditions like Toxic Shock Syndrome-associated with inappropriate use of tampon).
The campaign has contributed to a narrative that periods are normal and should be talked about openly to remove the stigma and feelings of shame that surrounds them. This is probably the first step in creating a more sustainable solution.
“It is about giving girls dignity back” Tina Leslie, Freedom4girls