David Thomson: Campaigns may spell the beginning of the end of the menstruation taboo

Before long, Scotland will be the first part of the United Kingdom where women will have access free sanitary products.
Women in poverty are often forced  to steal sanitary productsWomen in poverty are often forced  to steal sanitary products
Women in poverty are often forced to steal sanitary products

Recently a pilot project was unveiled in Aberdeen, funded by the Scottish Government to the tune of £42,500, that will benefit at least 1,000 women and young girls in the city.

The six-month initiative across seven regeneration areas in Aberdeen is aimed at tackling “period poverty” which sees some women unable to afford sanitary protection. The Scottish Government pilot will target those women and young girls who are in a low-income group with free sanitary products.

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Meanwhile on Monday, Labour MSP Monica Lennon launched a consultation on a members’ bill which, if successful, will introduce a system of free access to sanitary products in places like schools, colleges and universities in their toilets.

This is only the start of a year-long campaign by Scottish Labour’s inequality spokesperson. A system that introduces access to sanitary products for women and girls is the beginning, but she also wants to go further by breaking down the barriers of the stigma that is associated with menstruation.

Despite menstruation being a natural process for women and girls across the world, discussing the menstrual process with their peers or with family members can be difficult. A poll commissioned by YouGov on behalf of ActionAid showed that nearly four in five UK women aged between 16 and 39 feel uncomfortable discussing their periods in some capacity.

The poll quizzed just over 2,000 women also found that one in five women felt uncomfortable discussing their periods with their own mother, partners and female friends. Nearly 50 per cent said they would not be happy talking about their periods with their fathers.

It is startling that in modern Britain, where a variety of issues can be discussed openly, there remains a taboo surrounding a woman’s period. That’s why it is so refreshing –and important – for women like British long jumper Jazmin Sawyer, who had to withdraw from a competition earlier this month due to chronic period pain, and Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui, who openly admitted that her performance at last year’s Rio Olympics was hindered by the monthly period cycle, to be so open about the pain that they go through during their menstruation.

The film I, Daniel Blake shone a spotlight on the embarrassment felt by women in poverty who end up stealing sanitary products because they cannot afford to buy them during their period.

That, the ActionAid research combined with the pilot in Aberdeen and Monica Lennon’s ‘period poverty’ campaign, may well help spell the beginning of the end of the menstruation taboo.

However, what it is really needed is for women to feel they can openly discuss what is, after all, an entirely natural process. Perhaps then the stigma surrounding periods will be forgotten.

David Thomson is a freelance journalist based in Gourock