Last week it emerged that girls in Leeds were missing school during their periods, as they were unable to afford sanitary products. Now, to combat this issue in some of the UK’s poorest areas, the education secretary has promised to consider providing free tampons to girls from low-income families.
When asked in Parliament whether she would give free sanitary products to girls who receive free school meals, Justine Greening called it an “important issue”, and promised to "look carefully" into it.
Police had discovered that many girls in West Yorkshire were skipping school for several days a month due to their periods.
“Many of these kids are from low-income families. There’s often more than one child, and families really are struggling with finances, with these products often coming far down the priority line," police officer Sara Barrie told The Independent.
"The girls are so sensitive that they don’t want to upset mum by saying they need them because they know money’s tight."
Teachers at the school have reached out to charity Freedom4Girls. It already provides free sanitary products to schools in Kenya to prevent periods from interfering with female pupils’ right to education. But it’s clear the problem of “period poverty” lies closer to home, too.
The charity has launched an appeal to fund research into the scale of problem across the UK, and over 15,000 people have signed a petition calling for schools to give out free tampons and towels.
Greg Mulholland, MP for Leeds North West commented yesterday to the Times Education Supplement: "It's deeply shocking in the 21st century that girls, including in Leeds, are not going to school because they can't afford sanitary products.”
Indeed, as Freedom4Girl’s project coordinator told Metro following the reports in Leeds: “What we’ve heard is the tip of the iceberg, I’m sure.”
“There were 25,000 visits to food banks in Leeds alone last year. So if you’re at crisis point you go to a food bank and, like in Kenya, if you can’t afford food you can’t afford sanitary protection,” she added to The Independent.
Sample packs of period products have been sent to the school in question, but let’s hope it’s not long before more actions are taken to get girls across the country these basic resources, so that the anatomy of being a woman doesn’t serve to hinder their access to education any longer.
You can help fund Freedom4Girls here.