Welsh schoolgirls will be given free sanitary products in a bid to end period poverty

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Moya Crockett
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The Welsh government has announced a scheme for tackling period poverty in schools. It’s an important reminder that feminist activism can make a difference.

Female students at primary and secondary schools in Wales will soon be given free sanitary products as part of the government’s bid to end period poverty.

The Welsh government announced that it would start funding the £2.3m scheme with immediate effect, providing more than 141,000 girls with free tampons, sanitary pads and other menstrual hygiene products.

Following the scheme’s announcement, Welsh education minister Kirsty Williams said: “It’s unthinkable that young women could be forced to miss days of their education simply because they can’t access or afford period products.

“We’re committed to tackling this inequality in Wales and this funding will help make period products available to learners in all schools, free of charge and in the most dignified way possible.”

Mark Drakeford, the first minister of Wales, also highlighted the connection between access to proper menstrual products and personal dignity for girls and women.

“We are committed to supporting period dignity and maintaining our investment in schools to help bring period poverty to an end,” he said.

“It is essential ample sanitary products, as well as good facilities, are available to all female learners so they can manage their periods with confidence and remove what is an unnecessary barrier to their education.”

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In recent years, pressure has mounted for politicians to act on the issue of period poverty in the UK. Research by girls’ rights charity Plan International UK in 2017 found that 10% of girls in the UK had been unable to afford sanitary products. Some 15% had struggled to find the money to purchase menstrual hygiene products, and more than one in 10 girls reported having to improvise sanitary wear due to affordability issues.

The Welsh government’s latest announcement follows its pledge to offer free period products to patients in hospitals across the country. “Free sanitary products will be available to all women in Welsh hospitals,” said health minister Vaughan Gething on 5 March. “Patients should expect to receive the best possible care in comfort and dignity.” 

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Wales is not the first UK country to take steps towards tackling period poverty. Scotland has been a leader in this area: period poverty was first debated in the Scottish parliament in 2017, and Nicola Sturgeon’s government subsequently introduced a pilot scheme to deliver menstrual products to women and girls in need through foodbanks.

Scotland later became the first country in the world to offer free sanitary products in every school, college and university, as part of a £5.2m government scheme launched in August 2018.

Theresa May’s government has also promised to address period poverty in England. In his spring statement in March, chancellor Philip Hammond announced that free period products would be provided in secondary schools and colleges in England from September 2019. 

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Also in March, NHS England confirmed that free tampons, sanitary pads, towels and liners would be offered to patients in English hospitals from summer 2019.

Not only will these changes make a huge difference to the lives of women across the UK, they serve as an important reminder of how influential public pressure can be. The issue of period poverty has remained in the spotlight thanks largely to the tireless campaigning of grassroots feminist activists like Free Periods founder Amika George, The Red Box Project’s Anna Miles and Bloody Good Period’s Gabby Edlin.

So if there’s an issue that you want to campaign on, let this be a lesson: you can make a difference.

Images: Getty Images