Hello. It looks like youre using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best Tortoise experience possible, please make sure any blockers are switched off and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help, let us know at memberhelp@tortoisemedia.com

Tackling period poverty

Tackling period poverty

0:00

In August, Jason Grant became the Period Dignity Officer for Tayside. After an outcry over the job being given to a man he resigned and the role was abolished. But that doesn’t mean the issue has gone away.

“I think it’s important that we do have officers in place to make sure that women are supported as much as they should be…”

Ian Blackford, MP for the Scottish National Party

That’s Ian Blackford, an MP for the Scottish National Party, talking about period poverty…

“I think that we get the policy right, I think it’s important that we implement it, and I would have thought as a principle it would be far better that women are in these posts than anyone else.”

Ian Blackford, MP for the Scottish National Party

The “post” he’s talking about is Tayside’s new “Period Dignity Officer”, the only one in Scotland. 

Funded by the Scottish government to raise awareness about access to free sanitary products in schools and colleges, issues around menopause, and to educate people about period poverty.

Under a new law passed by the Scottish parliament, councils and education providers are now legally required to make period products available free of charge to anyone who needs them.

“There were no votes against, there were no abstentions, the motion is agreed, and the period products free provision Scotland bill is passed.”

Ken Macintosh, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament

A working group of local councils and colleges created the role of “Period Dignity Officer” to coincide with that new law. But when it was announced that the role was being given to Jason Grant, a man from Dundee who was previously a personal trainer, there was a huge backlash. 

So, what is period poverty and why was Jason Grant given the job?

***

Millions of women and girls across the world are affected by period poverty, which means they struggle to access sanitary products due to financial constraints.

“Women and girls, particularly refugees and seasonal workers, do not have access to menstrual products and they sometimes have to use leaves or unsanitised pieces of cloth when they’re on their periods which can cause serious health problems.”

Ilayda Eskitascioglu, Beijing +25 Global Youth Task Force

But it’s not just a problem in developing countries. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, 36 per cent of girls in England aged between 14 and 21 experienced some form of period poverty according to the children’s charity Plan International.

In order to afford period products, they cut back on other essentials like food, toothpaste and clothes.

And it’s a problem across the rest of the UK too. Here’s Kelly Donaldson, who runs a food bank in Aberdeenshire, speaking to BBC News.

“We’ve had girls who’ve come in that say that they have to stay off school because they don’t have pads or tampons and things, and they just don’t feel clean enough and things like that so they just stay at home rather than going to school with their friends.”

Kelly Donaldson, food bank volunteer, speaking to BBC News

Tayside said a suitable applicant for the “Period Dignity Officer” role would be someone who had a “successful track record” of “engaging and empowering a large range of people”, in particular “those who menstruate”. 

Once appointed, Jason Grant said he was keen to make progress in proving periods weren’t just a “female topic”.

He said, “I think being a man will help to break down barriers, reduce stigma and encourage more open discussions.”

But fast forward just three weeks later, and Jason Grant has resigned, blaming threats and abuse from the public. 

The Tayside region has now scrapped the role. So, where does this leave efforts to tackle period poverty?

***

Slowly, the conversation around period poverty is opening up.

Here’s former U.S. president Barack Obama admitting he didn’t know the government listed tampons as “luxury items”.

“I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items, I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when taxes were passed…”

Barack Obama, former U.S. President

Today, in the UK and elsewhere, steps are being taken to make sanitary products more accessible. 

In January 2019, NHS England committed to providing free sanitary products to women and girls in hospitals while local authorities started to offer free sanitary products to staff and people who use their services.

And there’s now wider government action to end period poverty too. At the start of 2021, VAT was removed from women’s sanitary products. Previously, the rate was 5 per cent.

“I can also confirm… that I will abolish the tampon tax… from January next year there will be no VAT whatsoever on women’s sanitary products.”

Rishi Sunak

Scotland’s move to become the first country in the world to make period products free under the Period Products Bill is a landmark moment for women’s rights.

Here’s MSP Monica Lennon who drove the campaign in Scotland…

“I opened the stage one debate by saying that we are standing tall on the shoulders of generations of feminists, trade unionists, and equality campaigners… our prize is the opportunity to consign period poverty to history.”

Monica Lennon, MSP, Scottish Labour

And its decision could push the rest of the UK to follow suit.

This episode was written by Imy Harper and Sean Collins. It was mixed by Imy Harper.