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Does Period Poverty deny Human Rights?

May 1st 2018

As the issue of period poverty is being discussed in the Welsh Assembly this week, Lucy Williams asks if period poverty is denying girls from low income families access to some of their human rights.

On Wednesday 2nd May Welsh Assembly Members are debating the issue of period poverty and the stigma attached to it. The debate will call on the Welsh Government to consider the impact that period poverty and stigma has on learning, to consider calls to increase awareness of the issue and provide free access to sanitary products in educational institutions and to identify ways to make sanitary products available in Welsh food banks.

Period Poverty

The issue of not being able to afford sanitary wear and products is now widely known as ‘period poverty’. Research from Plan International UK has found that 1 in 10 girls in the UK have been unable to afford sanitary products and a survey in Scotland found that the most common alternative to sanitary products included toilet roll, old clothes, socks and even newspapers.

With the price of sanitary products being what they are it is no surprise that individuals from low income families are struggling to buy sanitary products for themselves or their daughters. It is estimated that women spend on average £13 a month on sanitary products, which results in thousands of pounds over a lifetime.

Organisations across the UK and Wales have been raising the issue of period poverty for years asking for free sanitary products to be distributed in schools, food banks and to families living on low incomes. Recently, Rhondda Cynon Taff Council voted to provide free sanitary products to girls in all schools in an attempt to tackle period poverty in the area. Now a debate by AMs on Wednesday is calling for this to be in place in all educational institutions and to identify ways to make sanitary products available in food banks across Wales.

Human rights

With the issue now being debated in the Welsh Assembly, it’s time to look at whether period poverty and the experiences it causes are denying girls from low income families some of their human rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

Article 15 – freedom of association

Article 15 asserts the right for children to meet with friends and join groups and clubs. Some research into period poverty has shown that not having access to sanitary products stops girls from socialising with friends and attending social events and clubs during their period.

Article 28 – right to education

Article 28 outlines the right for children to learn and go to school. Plan International UK’s research highlighted that some girls who cannot afford sanitary products are missing school during their period due to the embarrassment of not being adequately protected.

Article 31 – right to leisure, play and culture

Article 31 highlights the right for children to relax and play. Again, research has shown that girls who cannot afford sanitary products are reluctant to play with friends during their period and are less likely to join in with sports or leisure activities including swimming.

Duty

By looking at these three rights under the UNCRC, it is evident that being unable to afford sanitary products causes situations in which girls are not completely exercising some of their rights under the UNCRC.

As the Welsh Government formally adopted the UNCRC in 2004 and under the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 Welsh Ministers have a duty to pay due regard to the UNCRC. Therefore, the Welsh Government has a duty to ensure that all children in Wales are exercising their human rights, and a duty to tackle period poverty by ensuring that girls from low income families have access to sanitary products and menstrual hygiene.

In March the Welsh Government announced that they were providing £1 million to tackle period poverty and dignity. Local authorities will receive £400,000 over two years to tackle the issues in their more deprived communities and £700,000 of capital funding to improve facilities in schools. While we welcome the announcement, we recognise that for all girls to exercise their human rights more needs to be done to ensure that girls and young women have access to free sanitary products. We also call for a consultation to be conducted with girls and young women across Wales to let them have their voices heard (under article 13 on freedom of expression) on the issue of period poverty and how to tackle it.

Lucy Williams is a Policy and Research Officer at the Bevan Foundation.

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