Free sanitary products to be stocked in secondary schools by government
Date published: 26 March 2019
The government will provide free sanitary products in secondary schools and colleges across England from September 2019.
The announcement was made earlier this month as part of the spring statement, following campaigners’ calls for the government to take action on ‘period poverty’ – a lack of access to sanitary necessities due to financial problems.
‘Period poverty’ is a very real problem as one in ten girls (10%) have been unable to afford sanitary wear, whilst one in seven girls (15%) have struggled to afford sanitary products, according to statistics from girls’ rights charity, Plan International UK.
Further statistics show almost half of all girls have missed an entire day of school (49%) because of their period, with the majority of these making up an excuse for their absence (59%).
The national scheme will be led by the Department for Education, and comes just days after the NHS pledged to offer free sanitary products to every hospital patient requiring them.
Currently, free sanitary items can be provided in primary and secondary schools across the country because of the Red Box Project campaign, started by three friends to ensure no girl foregoes her education because of her period.
Red Boxes ensure that their boxes in schools are filled with sanitary pads, tampons and spare underwear so that students will not struggle with affording appropriate menstrual care.
Gail Hopper, director of children's services at Rochdale Borough Council said: "We welcome the government’s plan to provide free sanitary wear in secondary schools.
"In Rochdale, where more than 26% of children live in poverty, the impact of period poverty in particular is a great concern. I understand some have missed school as a result of having insufficient protection and this isn’t right.
"Over recent months the Red Box Project and Crimson Wave have been working with an increasing number of schools to sensitively provide young women with donated sanitary protection. This is only possible with the kind contributions from communities. We are very positive about this project and welcome the support it offers, but girls and women should not have to rely on charitable donations in order to manage what is a natural process.
"I hope the national awareness raising of this problem as a result of the work of Red Box Project, Crimson Wave and other charities has been the catalyst for this welcome announcement."
Red Box Project Co-Ordinator for Rochdale, Anna Stokes said: “I am pleased to hear that the government is planning to put menstrual products into high schools in September however we are unsure how this will be done. I hope that they seek consultation from schools, girls, teachers, school nurses, pastoral care teams and people working to end period poverty.
“I feel that this provision should be extended to cover primary schools too. Girls can start menstruating as young as eight-years-old and, if they are experiencing period poverty, the impact that this could have on them, their education and their self-esteem is huge.
“Why should age impact on the access to products?”
Anna continued: “We are currently supporting 20 schools, 13 of which are primary schools, and we know that schools and girls appreciate and need our support helping girls to stay in education. Only last week we dropped a box off to a local primary school to be told, if they had the box earlier that week, it would have ensured two girls could have stayed in school.
“We are continuing to collect products, fundraising and trying to raise money to fund boxes, tights, knickers and other items we require.
“Ultimately access to education should not be dependent on the kindness of strangers, but we are thankful to Red Box Rochdale supporters and those that have supported the #FreePeriods movement.”
The #FreePeriods petition, led by student Amika George, gained thousands of signatures and led to a protest outside Downing Street.
The Rochdale Red Box project will continue to support more high schools before September and primary schools until no longer needed.
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