'Access to period products is often presented in zero-sum terms'CAIT FINDLAY/PIXABAY

Period stigma still exists. Apple’s introduction of a new period emoji doesn’t make it any easier for a 13 year old to explain a sudden need to go to the toilet with “miss, I’m on my period”, or for someone to convey that they need pain medication to deal with menstruation. Nor does it make it any easier for campaigners to be received warmly when they demand that period products must be treated as a necessity, rather than a luxury.

The phrase ‘period poverty’ has become more visible recently. Last July, multiple news outlets reported that over 137,000 UK schoolchildren are missing school days annually because they lack access to period products. Globally, the situation is worse: in Kenya, for example, 65% of women and girls are unable to afford sanitary products.

“Poor information about and access to period products affects us all”

So why talk about stigma, rather than the material provision of necessities? Because the link between suppression and access is significant. National and international campaigns have acted not only to demand free sanitary towels and tampons in schools and universities. They have also emphasised ‘smashing taboos’ and de-stigmatisation. Stigmas and taboos surrounding menstruation vary in form globally – and campaigns seeking to derail them must approach this – but the basic fact that poor information about and access to period products affects us all is a place to start if we want to challenge them. Already in Cambridge, a CUSU Council motion to provide free sanitary products University-wide, as well as the growth of panels amplifying campaigns like Amika George’s Free Periods indicate University-wide engagement with period poverty. There is still, however, a long way to go in grasping the gravity of this issue on a national and global level

Periods happen to half of the population, and not acknowledging that half of the population requires adequate sanitation, resources and facilities to deal with menstruation holds us all back. Children missing school, teachings struggling to teach, people of working-class livelihoods in particular finding it difficult to keep up with regimented schedules or attend job interviews – people of all ages missing out on the chance to learn, to develop, to access social mobility. Shrugging our shoulders about the importance of their access is symptomatic of the way we shrug our shoulders about health issues affecting marginalised groups more generally.

We need to break away from the deeply held notion that periods are just a ‘women’s issue’ – because they are a fundamentally human issue. Those who don’t menstruate might be uncertain about the benefits of extending solidarity to those who do menstruate in Cambridge as well as nationwide and globally. But failing to provide affordable menstrual products (and by extension, access to everyday social life) prevents individuals from developing skills, relationships and a voice that can speak to us all. Not providing adequate access to others limits our exposure from what they can contribute to us.

“Ensuring access to work, education and social life by people who menstruate doubtlessly contributes to local, national and global growth and innovation”

Access to period products is often presented in zero-sum terms. The Telegraph’s dismissal of talk about the price of periods as “left-wing hysteria” is based in an idea that we should be selective with spending and use money and energy on ‘real issues’, as if providing free sanitary products stops us helping other groups. In reality, ensuring access to work, education and social life by people who menstruate doubtlessly contributes to local, national and global growth and innovation. Systematic exclusion of one marginalised group on the grounds that there are not enough resources to prioritise their inclusion is not only flawed on its own economic utilitarian logic, it also – if unchallenged – justifies further degradations of access for groups which many of us are likely to belong to in some form.

Physical, social, and other health issues caused by a lack of access to adequate products and facilities, experienced by millions of people annually, should not be ‘dealt with’ alone by individuals that encounter them on a personal level. A world that is systematically unsuited to the reality of so many lives is a dysfunctional one.

Oxcam has chosen ‘Wearing Red’ as a Period Poverty campaign because this is something we can all do. When people of all genders and ages – reproductive age or otherwise – express an acknowledgement that periods will always exist, in all their messy, painful, monthly (in)glory, we can begin building an environment which is acutely aware of the need to deal with them safely while thinking seriously of ways to provide welcoming access to everyone: to schoolchildren, to those in poverty, to the homeless, to trans and non-binary people, and to everyone who is affected by stifling stigmas around periods, locally and globally.


Mountain View

CUSU Council votes to support the provision of sanitary products at colleges and departments

One day won’t change a lot, but every small movement builds momentum. Our King’s Parade rally at 3pm is aimed not only at showing how many people care about period poverty, but also encouraging the sharing of ideas, stories and art that reflects the intimate reality of dealing with periods.

On March 8th, we’re wearing red. Period.