We must end period poverty globally
Lack of access to sanitary products remains a major issue affecting women and girls in many parts of the world – it’s time to tackle this global problem head on, writes Wendy Chamberlain MP.
In recent months we have taken huge strides towards ending period poverty in the UK with the roll out of free sanitary products at schools in Wales and England. Scotland will soon follow suit, thanks to legislation put forward by Monica Lennon MSP – legislation the Liberal Democrats supported.
However, lack of access to sanitary products remains a major issue affecting women and girls in many parts of the world – it’s time to tackle this global problem head on.
Last year, former International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt pledged that the UK would help eradicate period poverty globally by 2030. That is why – ahead of International Women’s Day 2020 – I am introducing a Bill in Parliament to make sure the government sticks to this vital commitment.
Every day, approximately 800 million women between the ages of 15 and 49 are menstruating. The average teenage girl will experience menstruation for 3,000 days in her lifetime - the equivalent to eight years. Yet periods are too often clouded by stigma and shame, which can be deeply damaging to girls, not least when this impacts their education.
A recent BBC report highlighted the case of a group of female students in Gudjarat forced to endure inspection of their underwear to prove that they were not menstruating. In Uganda, reports show 28% of girls avoid school when they have their period, meaning that they miss on average four days of school per month. It’s clear that tackling period poverty - and challenging stigma around menstruation - is crucial if we are to secure equal access to education for girls across the globe.
Like the UK, many countries are taking action to tackle the stigma around periods and make sanitary products more readily available. In December 2019, following the lead of Kenya and Tanzania, the Rwandan government announced its decision to remove VAT from sanitary products to make them more affordable. Initial research by LSE suggests these actions have already helped reduce girls’ absenteeism at school. It’s excellent that the UK is one of those countries leading by example at home, but we must raise our ambition to work with international partners to help end period poverty and challenge broader stigma around menstruation.
The newly appointed International Development Secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, must now re-commit to her predecessor’s 2019 commitment to end period poverty by 2030. As well as this, we need real transparency as to how the £2 million in UK aid support pledged in 2019 has been used to help stamp out period poverty. Government, businesses, and charities involved in this project must report back on the actions they have taken – and evaluate what further steps should be taken to improve access to sanitary products. My Bill would make it a legal requirement for Government to provide these reports.
As a Liberal Democrat MP, I’m proud of my party’s internationalist values and of the fact that the UK has consistently ranked as one of the world’s largest aid donors. In 2015, it was the Liberal Democrats in government who made the 0.7% international aid budget a legal reality, ensuring we support some of the most vulnerable people in the poorest countries of the world. It’s vital that we use that aid to tackle the most pressing issues. Period poverty continues to impact those vulnerable groups and has damaging consequences for women and girls all over the world. We must continue to fight to eradicate it.
Wendy Chamberlain is Liberal Democrat MP for North East Fife.