Ending indignity, promoting equality: Why Scotland’s largest teaching union backs the campaign to end period poverty. Blog post by Nicola Fisher, EIS President
The EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union, has a long-standing interest in highlighting the damaging impact of low-income poverty on education. Last year we held special screenings of Kev Loach’s powerful film ’I, Daniel Blake’, to help our members become more aware of the changes to the social security system which are driving many into poverty and despair.
One scene which profoundly moved our members showed Katie, a struggling single mum, experiencing deep shame after being caught shoplifting sanitary products. Those working in food banks are increasingly encountering women and girls who are suffering the indignity of being unable to afford to buy sanitary products when experiencing their period. The Project Manager of one food bank in Nottingham says, “It’s quite something when you give somebody a box of tampons and they break down in tears” . A spokesperson for the leading food bank network in Scotland, interviewed in July 2017, said, “We've taken evidence across the country of women who supplement that [period products] by the use of socks, they would use toilet paper and in some of the worst circumstances…by the use of newspaper."
Women and girls deserve so much better than this. That’s why the EIS strongly supports Monica Lennon’s proposal to bring forward a Bill to end period poverty and oblige schools, colleges and universities to distribute items as needed, free of charge.
We believe that free and easy access to period products is fundamental to the health and wellbeing of women and girls. We know that health and wellbeing (one of the three pillars of the Curriculum for Excellence) impact on educational outcomes. We also believe that universal free provision of period products will enhance learners’ attendance and attainment.
It is common sense to suggest that girls are more likely to attend school/college, and be able to focus on their learning, if they know they can manage their period without stress or shame. However, this is also an evidence-based position. Research commissioned by ActionAid in 2016 found that more than 3.5 million girls and women in the UK had missed school or work because of their period.
A universal provision scheme as proposed by Ms. Lennon would also help to mitigate the impact of poverty on education, and should form part of the overall approach to ensuring ‘equity’ in educational provision, a stated Scottish Government priority.
Furthermore, it would promote equality - in line with the Public Sector Equality Duty. And, crucially, it would contribute to tackling the stigma associated with periods. Periods are not a medical emergency or a secret shame – they are a normal and natural part of life for women and girls. They deserve to be part of public policy in the same way as any other health issue.
In the EIS, we know only too well that the current climate of austerity, with one in five children in Scotland living in poverty, is damaging to our learners. We know children and young people are coming to school hungry and cold. We know families are choosing between eating and heating. We know that women and girls are stressed and distressed if they have no money to buy period products and are too embarrassed or ashamed to ask for an emergency supply. It is disgraceful that, in this day and age, many women and girls struggle to access basic sanitary products, which can have a significant impact on their health and wellbeing. This is a matter of basic human dignity, to which we should all be entitled, regardless of income. It’s time to end period poverty for good.