Illustration by Alisa Santikarn for Varsity

There are significant disparities in quantities, types, and budgets allocated for menstrual products supplied across colleges at the University, Varsity has found.

While some colleges only provide disposable sanitary supplies, others fund the provision of menstrual cups for their students. In at least four colleges, there are currently no provisions at all: Lucy Cavendish, Darwin, St. Edmund’s and Selwyn.

Most provisions are funded either directly by colleges or by their JCRs or equivalent student bodies. Out of the colleges who responded to Varsity’s request for comment, the amount of money allocated for period provisions ranges from no budget at all to £1,300 per year.

While most colleges place sanitary products in both male and female toilets, according to research done by member of WomCam Committee Ellie Brain this year, St. John’s, Jesus, Clare and Wolfson are the only colleges that do not place sanitary products in their male and gender neutral bathrooms. The Union of Clare Students told Varsity that their provision “will be expanded to our gender neutral toilets at the next opportunity."

At Emmanuel, access to menstrual products is not free and is only available through the college shop.

Their Women’s Welfare Officer told Varsity that “funding would probably always be provided to any officer who requested an initiative to be started."

Queens’ and Downing have the highest fixed budgets for sanitary provisions, at £1,300 for Queens’ and £970 for Downing. Queens’ Natural Cycles society is run by the JCR Welfare Officers and the Women’s Officer, and their yearly budget stands at £1,300. A spokesperson for the JCR told Varsity that they provide pads, tampons and menstrual cups for free.

Looking at reusable menstrual product provision, six colleges offer free menstrual cups, with Trinity Hall subsidising them for £4. King’s and Fitz also offered them to students for free, though this was funded by a one-time budget. Emmanuel said they did provide menstrual cups in the past, though it was unsuccessful as a long-term scheme. Two colleges also said they were looking to provide them in the future.

Notably, Jesus’ annual budget increased from £75 to £575 this year as they added menstrual cups to the pads and tampons they were already providing. King’s one off budget for menstrual cups this term was just under £1,000.

Of all the colleges, only one – Peterhouse – mentioned an alternative provision of reusable products, as they subsidised the cost of period underwear.

Darwin College also provide eco-pads when they can afford it, and are planning on hosting a speaker to discuss eco and ethical products to start a conversation about the products people would like to be supplied.

Some colleges, such as Fitzwilliam with an annual budget of £400, have a budget provided to them by their college. However, more often than not, menstrual products are funded by the JCR or student union. Gonville and Caius’ is one such college, with the student union providing an annual budget of £114.55.

Newnham JCR’s provision of plastic-free emergency sanitary provisions for students was introduced last term: it is half-funded by the college, who gave £100 to kickstart the supply, and by the JCR itself, who currently set £89 aside for its use.

Peterhouse, Clare, Sidney Sussex, Darwin, Trinity Hall and Lucy Cavendish all pay out of their student union welfare budget, though have no designated amount for menstrual products. The JCR President for Clare told Varsity that they “restock [pads and tampons] when they run low and work around that.”

Similarly, a Welfare Officer at Sidney told Varsity that their SU-funded provision “tends to work on a supply/demand basis” but that they typically spend £200 a year on menstrual products, and Homerton restocks their supplies of pads, tampons and liners – all funded by the SU – “as needed."

Hughes Hall and St. Catharine’s also told Varsity that they provide free pads and tampons for students.

According to Brain’s research, Magdalene, Girton, Corpus and Emma also provide menstrual products for their students.

Other colleges have only recently begun to supply free sanitary products for students. The Woman and Non-Binary Officer at King’s told Varsity that “after a bit of pushing” they have now been allocated £50 a term by the College to purchase disposable sanitary products for the toilets in King’s bar.

Medwards are also planning to scale up their provision of menstrual products next term. The JCR President told Varsity that they spent around £30 on such items last year, and are hoping to increase this to a maximum of around “£1 per student in college."

While Pembroke currently only provides a limited amount of free menstrual products in their Porter’s Lodge, the college’s Women’s Officer told Varsity that after over 6 months of campaigning, “a pilot scheme is being started next week."

As of the beginning of this term, Brain’s research showed that Lucy Cavendish, Darwin, St. Edmund’s and Selwyn currently don’t provide any form of free menstrual products. Selwyn told Varsity that they are “currently in the process of trying to implement supplies of sanitary products via our Femsoc and JCR."

Magdalene, St. Edmund’s, Girton, Robinson, Corpus Christi, Clare Hall, St. John’s, Christ’s, and Wolfson did not respond to Varsity’s request for comment.

  • Updated, 23rd November 2019: This article was amended to clarify that it is Clare College, not Clare Hall, which does not provide menstrual products in male and gender neutral toilets. The Graduate Student Body (GSB) at Clare Hall provides menstrual products in gender neutral toilets, men's toilets, and women's toilets.