I am one of those people who talk to the radio. Everyone sings along to the radio, but I listen to programmes and not only do I tut and huff and sigh, I also argue back. Last week I unleashed a tirade at the car radio when it reported to me that young girls and women in this country do not have access to adequate sanitary protection. It went on to tell me that girls were missing school each month because of this. The issue had come to light because a charity, Freedom4Girls, which provides sanitary protection for young women in Kenya was approached by a school in Leeds as they were concerned at the falling attendance of young women at school being due to them staying home because of their periods. That charity is now supplying sanitary protection in that area too. That’s Leeds, West Yorkshire, England.
I was fuming. The more I read about it, the worse it got. I had previously heard that food banks were appreciative of donations of sanitary products as they were needed, but I had no idea that it was this bad. Young women are choosing between whether to eat food or wear sanitary protection. One young woman said that she missed lunch sometimes (paid for by her EMA) to save some money for sanitary products. Another admitted to being given one sanitary towel a day by her mother. Another said that she didn’t like to ask her mother because she knew that they were expensive and that she couldn’t afford them. One young woman interviewed said that from the ages of eleven to fourteen she sellotaped tissues into her underwear, and sometimes just had to miss school.
It is bad enough that there are women in the world who live like this every month. It is not right in any way that women the world over are denied access to education. But I was horrified, truly and utterly appalled that young women in this country, in this country, are being denied access to both, effectively by virtue of their gender. Young women, our young women who look to all of us to support them and show them how to be grown women are missing food and school because they cannot access basic hygiene products; that is unacceptable in a first world country.
I saw that there is a crowdfunding page now set up so donations can be made towards a study. Go and do your study if you must. I am sure that it will be helpful to find areas of particular need. But I don’t want to talk about it any more. And in three years time I don’t want to read a report about it either. I don’t care what the reasons are. I don’t care if a young woman’s parents are crap, cash poor, or they want to find an excuse not to go to school. And I don’t care where in the country it is happening. It is happening and that’s enough for me. As I type, and as you read, young women, really young women who may not properly understand what is happening to their bodies, are rolling up socks to put in their underwear each month. And if they’re doing that this month, that probably means that next month that they will have no socks. I am so ashamed.
I cannot help but wonder if this state of being has been (unwittingly) arrived at by a historically patriachal and heterosexual society. Anyone can walk into any family planning centre in the country and get free condoms. You can go in, ask for them get a carrier bag full and have as much safe sex as you like, no questions asked. Marvellous. Good, public health issue assisted there. Women can also get other forms of contraception free on the NHS. Of course, men cannot because there is no such thing available to them. Yet. 2017 being sixty six years after the contraceptive pill was invented for women and fifty seven years behind it being freely available on the NHS. Nevertheless, even if you’re having unsafe sex, whilst you may be risking an STI, if the female partner is taking some form of contraception, you are most likely not risking a baby. Another public health issue assisted there. Great. Menstruation. Something that happens to pretty much every female of child-bearing age around the entire world every single month. Oh that. Well that’s just women’s stuff isn’t it? Best not to talk about it and let them get on with it quietly so we can pretend it’s not happening. And when it’s over we can get back to the sex without the risk of infections or babies.
Thank goodness that we are no longer living in a country where women quietly retire to the country for their confinement surrounded only by women, and then emerge three months later either carrying a child or not at all. In law, at least until 29 March 2019, women have equal rights to men. And that includes the right to an education and to live free from discrimination based on gender. We all know that in practice there is some catching up to do; sometimes obvious and sometimes less so. In this case, it has been revealed to us by day to day events borne out of mysogynistic attitudes that shaped the system and its output years ago; an attitude that thankfully is dying. As shocked as I am by this (as I think we all are given the reaction), I like to give us all the benefit of the doubt – we all made a mistake here and missed it. I want to apologise to all of those young women who have endured whilst we were not quite looking the other way, but not paying the attention that perhaps we should have been; we probably can’t make it right for you, but we will do our best to help change it now we know.
You may sign the petition for free sanitary products to be provided in schools by cutting and pasting the following link- https://www.change.org/p/provide-free-sanitary-products-in-uk-schools-periodpotential?utm_medium=email&utm_source=notification&utm_campaign=petition_signer_receipt
Original image John Anderson