Labour MSP: Period poverty could put women's lives at risk

Scottish Labour inequalities spokesperson Monica Lennon calls for more action to enable accessibility to women’s sanitary products

HEALTH will be at risk for women and girls if they don’t have adequate access to sanitary products, Monica Lennon MSP has warned.

Speaking to CommonSpace, Lennon said that “period poverty” – when women and girls struggle to pay for basic sanitary products on a monthly basis – could have a significant impact on hygiene, health and wellbeing, and even lead to a life-threatening condition associated with tampon use.

“Now it is quite rare, but toxic shock syndrome has been linked to women not changing tampons frequently enough,” Lennon said.

“I know that women and girls will make do with whatever that they can get, whether it is newspaper, rags or just bits of material.”

These are the possible consequence for women and girls who are living in period poverty. A recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on destitution found that there are 1.25 million people across the UK who are missing out on bare essentials like toiletries and sanitary products. 

The humiliation women face as a consequence of period inequality was recently brought further to the attention of the wider public through the Ken Loach film ‘I, Daniel Blake’, and by politicians in the Scottish Parliament and Westminister.

Last week, shadow minister for women and equalities Paula Sheriff welcomed the move by High Street retailer Boots to allow customers to gift sanitary products for distribution to a local food bank in her Dewsbury constituency.

“Now it is quite rare, but toxic shock syndrome has been linked to women not changing tampons frequently enough.” Monica Lennon

Sherriff told the Guardian that she hopes that the move by Boots would encourage others to take corporate social responsibility seriously. 

In Scotland, Lennon has been raising the issue of menstrual inequality since she was elected in May. Her campaign has received support from Paul Laverty, writer of ‘I, Daniel Blake’, journalists and charities such as Trussell Trust and Scottish Women’s Aid. 

Lennon said that it was a “welcome intervention” from Laverty when he supported the campaign to hand out free tampons as it was a “total necessity for women”.

Lennon said that it was a “welcome intervention” from Laverty when he supported the campaign to hand out free tampons as it was a “total necessity for women”.

In the Scottish Parliament, the Central Scotland MSP has managed to get cross-party support and parliamentary time to discuss period poverty in September.

During the debate, she mentioned the example of New York City, which changed the law to allow free tampons to be provided in schools, prisons and homeless shelters.

“The reason why I mentioned the New York City example heavily in my speech is because I think they get it in New York,” said Lennon. “They have won the argument that sanitary products are as essential as toilet paper.

“So you go into a public restroom, and they said that over there toilet paper, hand wash, these things are provided, you expect them to be there – why not sanitary products?” Lennon added.

“[About the New York programme] So you go into a public restroom, and they said that over there toilet paper, hand wash, these things are provided, you expect them to be there – why not sanitary products?” Monica Lennon

Lennon said that after initially being told by the Scottish Government that it has no plans to conduct any analysis on period poverty, charities like Trussell Trust have come out and said that there’s a real need to do something.

Lennon added: “I think there should be a role for the Scottish Government here to look at a provision to at least consider that and to do some work around that.

Lennon went on to say that the Scottish Government has already set a precedent in terms of free prescriptions on the NHS and free condoms.

Lennon said: “There is the C-Card so health boards provides that service. In fact, I have a leaflet here in the office that I have picked up at surgery, and you get a little card, and you tick the type of condom you want. Maybe having that option on sanitary products would work.

“There is the C-Card so health boards provide that service. In fact, I have a leaflet here in the office that I have picked up at surgery, and you get a little card, and you tick the type of condom you want. Maybe having that option on sanitary products would work.” Monica Lennon

“But I think in terms of not just women going into chemists or going to a doctor surgery, but if you are in school or in your workplace because let’s face it, sometimes your monthly period takes you by surprise.

“So it is not just about poverty, it is about having these basic needs met.“

The Scottish Government confirmed to the CommonSpace that the public health minister recently met with the Trussell Trust and other organisations to discuss period poverty and the wider issues of poverty.

Aileen Campbell, Scottish public health minister, said: “I am keen to explore what more can be done to tackle gendered inequality, within the limitations of the current powers of the Scottish Parliament, to help improve the lives of girls and women in our country. We’ve made significant investments in a range of services to support people on low income or facing acute income crisis and tackle the underlying causes of poverty.

“We’ve made significant investments in a range of services to support people on low income or facing acute income crisis and tackle the underlying causes of poverty.” Aileen Campbell

 “We are also taking action in a range of areas, including investing in affordable housing, increasing childcare, demonstrating our commitment to a real Living Wage, and spending £100m a year mitigating against the worst of UK Government welfare changes.”

The Trussell Trust has called on the Scottish Government to increase the awareness of and accessibility to the Scottish Welfare Fund to ensure that people are aware that they can access it from every local authority. According to the foodbank charity, the financial support will enable women to purchase sanitary products.

With the Scottish Government currently consulting on a new social security system in Scotland, the Trussell Trust believes in a formal social security system to help the retention of a women’s dignity by providing sanitary products to those who need them and who are in receipt of benefits like Jobseeker’s Allowance. 

Campaigners in Scotland have said that they will be stepping up their campaign in the New Year to put pressure on the Scottish Government to end period poverty.

Picture courtesy of Francisco Osorio

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