Senedd “shatters the taboo” on period poverty



(Title Image:Photo by Jochen Tack/imageBROKER/REX/Shutterstock via Metro)

The Issue

Not wanting to be indelicate, but “period poverty” is when women and girls can’t afford sanitary products.

While under EU rules VAT has to be applied to sanitary products (aka. “tampon tax”), even without VAT it can still work out as relatively expensive despite being an essential monthly purchase – particularly so if you’re on a low income.

AMs used a backbench debate to draw attention to the issue yesterday.

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes research by Plan International UK on Period Poverty and Stigma, which estimates that 1 in 10 girls in the UK has been unable to afford sanitary wear.
  • Welcomes the action by Welsh organisations including Periods in Poverty, Wings Cymru, The Red Box Project, Trussell Trust, and others to tackle this issue.
  • Notes the final report from Rhondda Cynon Taf Council Scrutiny Working Group established to deal with free sanitary provisions in schools.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to consider current and emerging research on the impact of period poverty on learning, consider improving education on the subject and providing free sanitary items in schools and identify ways to make sanitary products available through Welsh food banks.

Key Points

Jane Hutt AM (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan)
For (the motion): It has a wider impact than you would think.

  • 1 in 7 girls had had to ask for sanitary products from a friend while 1 in 10 have had to improvise sanitary wear due to affordability problems; some mothers have had to go without them to ensure their daughters have them instead.
  • There are a number of physical and mental health impacts: infections, the requirement to be near a toilet, embarrassment.
  • There remains a stigma attached to menstruation/periods and they are still euphemised and belittled; “silence prevents progress”.
  • Welcomed a £700,000 Welsh Government capital investment to improve facilities in schools.

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, South Wales West)
For: Poverty is a feminist issue.

  • Women make up a majority of part-time and low-paid workers and are also disproportionately affected by welfare cuts.
  • RCT alone would need £70,000 a year to provide and dispose of free sanitary products; the current grant, while welcome, gives them £22,000.
  • Sanitary products should be as freely available, and talked in the same way, as toilet paper.

Caroline Jones AM (UKIP, South Wales West)
For: No girl should be unable to afford their period.

  • Girls shouldn’t face withdrawal from schools because they can’t afford their period.
  • VAT on sanitary products should be scrapped from day one of Brexit in March 2019.
  • Manufacturers should move away from using plastic in sanitary products.

Vikki Howells AM (Lab, Cynon Valley)
For: Periods can be difficult for girls, full stop.

  • Half of girls surveyed by Plan International missed a day of school because of their period and 64% skipped a PE lesson; a quarter didn’t know what to do when they started their period and there was inadequate follow-up education on what they were taught in primary school.
  • Even when free sanitary products are available, girls may still miss school.
  • RCT will make it mandatory for all schools with girls aged 9+ attending to provide free sanitary products which can be accessed independently in toilets.

Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon)
For: Let’s break the taboo.

  • This debate is part of the process of breaking taboos around periods.
  • At heart, poverty in general needs to be addressed to fix the problem.
  • Agreed that girls should be taught about environmentally-friendly and long-lasting products like menstrual cups.

Welsh Government Response

Leader of the House, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West)

  • It’s “completely unacceptable” that women and girls can’t go about their daily business because they can’t afford sanitary products.
  • All 22 local councils have taken up the offer of grant funding for extra/improved facilities in schools.
  • The Welsh Government have asked councils to consider providing reusable or environmentally-friendly products as sanitary products are often difficult to recycle.
  • There’s a future statement forthcoming on sex & relationship education (and how that fits in with this).

Vote

The motion was unanimously agreed.

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