Homelessness, natural disasters and extreme poverty. All of these things have several impacts, with many charities working hard to provide food, bedding and other supplies. But when people talk about these issues, how many actually consider the importance of access to sanitary products for young girls and women?

Every day, many young women around the world miss school, work, and other essential daily tasks because they are unable to afford sanitary products. Isn’t that just ridiculous? In New York, for example, there are currently approximately 3,262 single women living on the streets without access to hygiene products or safe, hygienic spaces. Many women have to carry around extra clothes during their menstruation period because of their lack of access to toilets. The ability to stay clean is a point of dignity, and for many women this has a direct link to their self-worth and value.

The ability to stay clean is a point of dignity.

Period poverty is essentially rooted in issues of gender and the stigma behind periods. Incredulously this is epitomised within our own taxation system in the UK. Even in 2018, tampons and sanitary products are deemed unessential and are taxed at five percent. The tax is only rumoured to be disappearing this year if our Chancellor of the Exchequer follows through – very unlikely. Nigel Webster, the project manager of the Bestwood and Bulwell food bank in Nottingham disagrees, saying “It’s quite something when you give somebody a box of tampons and they break down in tears.”

Hey Girls is a social enterprise project, started by Celia Hodson and her two daughters, Becky and Kate. Having been a single parent herself, Celia understood first hand the financial strain of buying sanitary protection when struggling to survive on benefits; “Like most mums, I didn’t want my girls to feel any different from other girls at school. So sometimes buying sanitary pads meant that the family was then on soup or oven chips and nuggets for that week.” This is the major problem that Hey Girls aims to address. The company sells sanitary products – daytime and nighttime sanitary pads – and for each pack that you buy, one will be donated to a woman or child who needs them. You can even subscribe to have them delivered to your house monthly, so it’s even more simple. And when it’s only £3.25 for ten, it’s actually affordable for students.

Celia understood first hand the financial strain of buying sanitary protection when struggling to survive on benefits

What’s more, they don’t just do good elsewhere, but at home too. Much of their website is dedicated to providing free educational resources to assist girls in the UK to manage their menstruation in a way that doesn’t put them at risk of infection. In fact, the site points out that “girls as young as 10 years feel shame around menstruation”. Their site aims to subvert this statistic, with a section for younger girls with FAQ’s on periods and puberty, and a myth-buster section for older girls containing gems such as “you can lose your virginity by using a tampon”, and “if you don’t get your period you are definitely pregnant”, two key things that I think we must all remember definitely are not true.

With the establishment of enterprises such as Hey Girls, it is now incredibly easy to get directly and personally involved in helping to combat period poverty. Obviously, I would recommend buying Hey Girls products, which could determine a whole new era of “buying social”, ensuring that your purchases benefit you as well as someone in need. You could also sign a petition to fight against the sexist levy that is the 5% tampon tax. Large supermarket chains such as Tesco’s have already started to absorb the tax themselves and save the consumer having to pay this discriminatory fee for sanitary products. By encouraging your local supermarket or drugstore to do the same you could save yourself a pretty penny! Finally, you can get involved in your community and see what they’re doing to end period poverty. Most homeless shelters have a ‘homeless period’ campaign, where you can donate and help collect donations for local “period banks”. And, if you can’t find a campaign near you – start your own!

In a political environment where rights for women are being consistently tested and questioned, it is essential that everyone, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman, strives for equal rights for everyone. As depressing as it is, we can’t fix the problem of gender equality overnight. So why don’t we start with sanitary products?

For more information, please check out https://www.heygirls.co.uk/

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