Sanitary products or bills? This should never be the question

By Molly Smith and J. Smith

When you think about luxury items the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t something that meets basic hygiene needs, like a tampon or sanitary pad. Though there have recently been more conversations about the status of menstruation products as a luxury item, periods are still something of a taboo topic.

The reality is that periods are expensive. Research shows that someone who menstruates could be spending over £18, 000 on products for their period over their lifetime. As well as the financial strain from having to buy tampons or pads, it also seems that understanding of periods is lacking.

For example, many will have seen the Twitter rants by self-proclaimed “meninist” Ryan Williams, opposing the cut of the tampon tax. Williams suggested that woman should learn to “control their bladders.” His lack of understanding even promoted a GoFundMe page to raise money for Williams to receive some basic lessons on anatomy, and hopefully learn the distinction between the womb and the bladder. Whilst misconceptions this extreme are rare, we still feel that there needs to be more education about menstruation. Having access to menstruation products is vital to maintaining the health and dignity of people who have periods, and a lack of education can have serious implications.

This is why we decided to launch the FREEDAM campaign. A cheesy play on words which incorporates the need of FREE proDucts for Accessible Menstruation with the idea that no one should have to worry about meeting the costs of this basic necessity.

Before studying at Durham, J was involved in supporting the Homeless Period Campaign at Northumbria University, which aims to highlight the struggles faced by individuals who are homeless and menstruate. Campaigns like this have prompted others to recognise that paying for periods is an issue that can affect any individual. Some Students Unions including Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh already provide free tampons. Unions like Leeds, Cambridge and Exeter subsidise products by covering the cost of their tax and selling tampons at a reduced price to students.

We wanted to start a campaign in Durham to encourage our community to take similar steps to ensure that no student is in the situation where they are choosing between sanitary products and other necessities, like bills or food. This campaign aims to encourage the SU to provide sanitary products for free to all students that might need them, as well as increased education about periods. We recently discussed the campaign with the Welfare, Equality and Diversity Committee (WEDComm) in the SU and most college Welfare Officers were keen to look into providing free menstruation products as part of their college welfare services.

We realise a big challenge to this campaign will be getting common rooms to allocate money from their welfare budget to sanitary products. When discussing this at WEDComm we noted that colleges often provide free condoms, lube and in some cases dental dams to students, which is a great service to ensure students can be conscious of their own sexual health in Durham. As part of the campaign, we want to work on providing a best practice guide for colleges, who are keen to get involved, but who are unsure of how they might address issues, like budget within their common rooms, without taking money away from other central welfare services like sexual health supplies. For example, we want to encourage students to sign up for c-cards, which are used to access sexual health supplies for free for anyone under 25.

Producing this guide will hopefully bring together individuals from JCRs, MCRs and the Association Welfare representative, as well as any student that is interested in getting involved. We hope that starting the conversation between colleges who already provide free menstruation products might help guide colleges who do not, to make tampons and pads free and easy to access for all students.

We also want to raise awareness of periods, in particular the misconception that only women menstruate. Both of us are on the LGBT+ Association Executive Committee, and within LGBT+ communities more people are aware that individuals who are not women can have periods. However, we both feel that in the general population this is not something that many people have considered. We hope that this campaign will highlight to people that menstruation isn’t just a ‘woman’s issue,’ and make people more aware of the difficulties faced by transgender and non binary students who menstruate.

Part of this comes down to education, especially around issues such as the lack of sanitary bins in men toilets and gender-neutral toilets on campus being few and far between. We want to make sure that students who do not identify as women can access sanitary products and dispose of them without having their identity questioned by others.

If you are interested in learning more and getting involved in the FREEDAM campaign message J Smith or Molly Smith for more information.

Photograph: Kristinie C via Flickr and Creative Commons


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