Periods and Pandemics
By Heidi-Ann Stedeford
From abrupt pay cuts and bare Tesco aisles squeezing spending in March, to NHS and public transport staff forced to work unprotected throughout April and into May, experiences of life in a pandemic range from uncomfortable to unjustifiable. Enduring these essential restrictions on items, income and travel has been a novel experience for some, but endured by many long before this crisis.
People who have periods suffer every month as a result of what appears to be politicians’ collective period amnesia. That it can cost on average £4,800 to have a safe and comfortable period in a lifetime*. For those who live in poverty, covering this cost is often simply not feasible.
Asylum Seekers often live in such extreme poverty. They are not allowed to work and are entitled to just £37.75 per week to live on, a little over £5 per day. While Universal Credit increased by £20 per week, Asylum Support was increased by only 26p per day - 12 weeks after lockdown began. That’s too little, too late. According to Refugee Action, you’d need to save this 26p daily increase for 115 days (or until mid-October) to afford the cheapest pack of single-use face masks currently available**. This is a disgrace. And, of course, periods don’t stop in a pandemic. A heavy and/or irregular period can cost around £20 per month, meaning that a completely normal and healthy bodily function can cost almost a quarter of an asylum seeker’s already stretched income...
This forces women like Stella to go hungry during their period so they can afford the right menstrual product. Or Testimony, provided with an inadequate 1 pad per-period-day by the asylum accommodation she stays in. Or Marie, using her baby’s nappy as a pad when left with no alternative***. These experiences form as traumatic memories, staying when the period ends.
An inability to access safe, hygienic period products is not a straightforward issue. How each person with a period copes is personal.
The issue of affordability mixes with societal and cultural stigma - something to be suffered in silence, or so they say. With big brands using blue liquid to more politely represent period blood in advertising for years and TV depicting men as too embarrassed to buy menstrual products, people with periods are made to believe eyes and minds should be shielded from the mere thought of bleeding. As a result, nearly half of girls aged 14 to 21 in the UK are embarrassed by their periods, and almost three quarters embarrassed when buying period products****. This public hostility to periods can mix with an asylum seekers’ experience of being raised within a culture that ties menstruation to shame, further pushing them away from asking for help at a drop-in centre, rathe opting for inadequate methods that could lead to infection and discomfort instead. This includes wearing a pad for far longer than recommended, using rags to stem the flow, and restricted access to washing facilities preventing the safe use of reusables.
As a further blow, many women report that traumatic experiences, such as forced displacement or living in poverty and destitution, leads to heavy and irregular periods. This further drives up costs and compounds the need to access period products easily and quickly.
This is an injustice that doesn’t stop in a pandemic. This is an injustice which the government doesn’t meet with such urgency, but this is an injustice that needs our attention.
Bloody Good Period provides free period products and toiletries to over 1,500 asylum seekers, refugees and people who can’t afford them via 50 drop-in services and groups. Volunteers and the Bloody Good Team also provide menstrual and reproductive education to people who menstruate, and campaign to normalise bleeding so period is no longer a ‘dirty’ word. During the coronavirus pandemic, Bloody Good Period have implemented a trust-based “Take What You Need” (TWYN) scheme via a storage facility in Alexandra Palace. Drop-in centres, refuges, homeless shelters and food banks have been encouraged to access our supply of period products there, with direct deliveries to centres outside of London and deliveries to individuals where needed, such as if their local centres are closed or if self-isolating. Nearly 33,500 packs of period products have been distributed since the start of lockdown.
With the continued work, Bloody Good Period wants everyone to have the bloody good period they deserve, during the pandemic and beyond.
Heidi is one of our Bloody Babes A.K.A. Part of our Volunteer Crew. Her day job involves Environmental Campaigning and Content Marketing Copywriting, but she loves helping out the Bloody Good Team and fighting for period equity too! Find her on Linkedin here.
Time for the facts...
*Approximate calculation by Bloody Good Period: £4 on tampons, £4 on pads, plus £2 panty liners = £10 x 12 months x 40 years = £4,800
** Refugee Action Video: ‘“They don’t care”: How the Government is risking the lives of people seeking asylum during the coronavirus crisis’ (see on Refugee Action’s Twitter, https://twitter.com/RefugeeAction)
***Testimonies of women refugees and asylum seekers, ‘The effects of “period poverty” among refugee and asylum-seeking women’, A collaborative report by Bloody Good Period and Women for Refugee Women (October 2019). Important note: these testimonies were gathered as part of BGP’s work on the UK government’s period poverty taskforce, and were done so in partnership with Women for Refugee Women, ensuring that women would be supported through any trauma from telling their stories. (https://e13c0101-31be-4b7a-b23c-df71e9a4a7cb.filesusr.com/ugd/ae82b1_22dcc28fa137419abf5c9abe6bbf3b45.pdf)
**** Plan International’s UK Research on Period Poverty and Stigma (December 2017) (https://plan-uk.org/media-centre/plan-international-uks-research-on-period-poverty-and-stigma)