In this interview, project leader of Provide a Pad, Imogen Ellis explains what period poverty means to people in Exeter, and what Provide a Pad is doing to combat it.
Since its founding in 2016, Provide a Pad has always been focused on collecting sanitary products for “homeless and vulnerably housed individuals”. However, the Provide a Pad project goes beyond being a simply a practical solution to one aspect of poverty, the project also has a normative dimension. Imogen explained that Provide a Pad is also committed to “breaking the stigma surrounding menstruation and ensuring we support BAME and LGBTQ+ people too.”
Imogen noted that since 2017, there has been a fall in demand for sanitary products from poverty organisations in and around Exeter. Due to this decrease, Provide a Pad are excited about the opportunity to expand their reach, and start donating to low-income schools in which pupils “often can’t afford sanitary protection so miss school”.
Why are organisations like Provide a Pad necessary?
Period poverty has been commonly understood as a problem only faced in the developing world. However, thanks to films like ‘I, Daniel Blake’ which features a single mother having to steal sanitary products, we are starting to realise that period poverty affects many people in the UK too. Imogen explained that, “Ultimately, period poverty is individuals having to choose between having food or buying sanitary products.”
In the UK, it is estimated that 1 in 10 young women are not able to afford sanitary products, although some sources suggest the figure is more likely to be around 1 in 7.
Imogen told me that many women facing period poverty resort to using old rags or newspapers in place of expensive sanitary products.
How is it possible that period poverty is still a problem in the UK?
For Imogen, the answer is simple; “I think a huge part of period poverty is down to the taboo of menstruating, or just being female!” She reflected that it is not surprising that women facing period poverty are not comfortable with asking for help given that “there are adverts for sanitary products that would rather show blue liquid rather than blood.”
However, the conversation in the public sphere is finally starting to shift towards issues that have previously been considered private matters. In May 2018, Jess Phillips (MP for Birmingham Yardley) wrote an article talking about her own experience of an abortion. In July 2018, Danielle Rowley (MP for Midlothian) became the first woman in UK parliament to discuss her period. Imogen told me this means that “women are starting to take an active role in this public conversation about their bodies, and hopefully starting to redefine it”.
Imogen is hopeful that with MPs talking about their periods in Parliament, and projects like Provide a Pad talking about periods in universities, this stigma can be overcome. For Imogen, it is crucial that we “break the stigma and shame that goes hand in hand with period poverty.”
Over the next year, Imogen hopes to see more self-identifying men volunteer with Provide a Pad. She notes that men have always been willing to donate during Provide a Pad’s drives on campus, but she believes greater gender diversity in the team “helps to break down the stigma towards menstruation in non-binary and transgender people”.
If you would like to get involved with Provide a Pad, you can find their page on Facebook.
By Molly Williams-Leer