With 118 stores across the UK, we have a lot of neighbours! We like to do what we can to promote and highlight the good work carried out by charities local to our areas. This week, we want to focus on Bloody Good Period, a charity which collects sanitary towels and tampons as well as other essential toiletries and distributes them to women who are refugees and asylum seekers.
Bloody Good Period’s origins and ethos
When asylum seekers or refugees are mentioned in the news, the focus of those reports tends to be on the numbers of people coming to the UK to flee violence, war or persecution, and mention may be made of the sorts of horrors that those refugees have experienced. Yet somehow, their ‘humanness’ is often lost – they are real people, with thoughts, bodies and souls, but they are often viewed as a collective, rather than as individuals.
The women still have periods and a desire and need to keep fresh and clean, but sanitary products and toiletries are not cheap; the aid given to them may only stretch to food and shelter, leaving them to improvise sanitary towels from toilet paper or scraps of fabric. Founder of Bloody Good Period, Gabby Edlin, decided to do something to address this issue and has already distributed thousands of tampons and towels to women in two asylum-seeker centres in north London.
Gabby began as a volunteer at the New London Synagogue drop-off centre which provided food and clothing to local asylum seekers. She soon realised that they did not provide sanitary products and discovered that these were regarded almost as a ‘luxury’ item, to be distributed only in absolute emergencies. Unsure of what constituted a non-emergency when it came to periods, Gabby took it upon herself to rally friends and others via Facebook to begin to gather donations of sanitary products. The idea took off and there are now several ways in which people can donate
to Bloody Good Period:
Bloody Good Period now has stands at two drop-off centres for asylum seekers that stock a wide range of sanitary products, all of which are of good quality from recognised brands. Gabby feels that although cheaper products may be available, these are often of inferior quality and far from ideal for women who may find it difficult to access good washing facilities on a regular basis. Providing good quality, essential products provides the women who need them with some level of dignity and can bolster their sense of self-worth, which is often lacking after the experiences they have been through.
Supporting women from the UK
Gabby’s affinity for asylum seekers in particular stems from her Jewish heritage and her familiarity with the concept of being ‘displaced’. People forced to leave their country – everything and everyone they know – have no home, job or security, so they have enough to cope with without having to try to find enough money each month to pay for sanitary products.
However, Gabby is also concerned with getting sanitary products to any woman who cannot afford them, regardless of their race or background. Following the Grenfell fire disaster, which left countless residents homeless and with only the clothes on their backs, Bloody Good Period stepped in to distribute 1500 packs of sanitary products
to the women survivors.
Women in police custody
Women who are living in period poverty (either as asylum seekers or as UK citizens) are not alone in being unable to have access to sanitary products. Women held in police custody have been found to have been left without access to these essential items, something which has also concerned Gabby.
According to the Independent Custody Visiting Association and reports by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, women in custody are often denied access to tampons or towels or are too embarrassed or ashamed to ask, especially if only male staff are available. Many are also denied the right to shower for days at a time, and the toilet areas are often covered by CCTV and far from private.
An end to period poverty?
Across the pond in America there is already talk of 2018 being the Year of the Woman. There has been a considerable backlash against misogynistic statements made by men in power, on the tide of which the women of Hollywood are making a very visible stand against sexual harassment and abuse. It could be that this wellspring will develop into action on this side of the Atlantic, one element of which could be to change the way that the provision of sanitary products is regarded by the UK government.
Currently, VAT is charged on sanitary products. The standard rate for VAT is 20%, meaning that for every £1 spent on an item, 20p goes to the government. The standard rate is applied to items that would be classed as ‘luxuries’ – non-essentials such as sweets, takeaway food, alcohol and bottled water. Sanitary products have VAT applied at a reduced rate of 5%, alongside products such as energy saving materials, mobility aids for elderly people and domestic fuel. They are therefore not classed alongside ‘luxury’ items – but critics of the system say that they are an essential and women are being financially penalised (and indeed indirectly discriminated against) because it is only women who need them.
There has been many calls for sanitary products to be made exempt from VAT, but even if their price were reduced by 5% (as they have been in some supermarkets), their basic price can still be prohibitive for many impoverished women.
Currently, food banks rarely hand out sanitary products – the Bloody Good Period shelters are in a minority. This has left many women in what has been coined as ‘period poverty’, forcing them to improvise solutions in much the same way as the women asylum seekers or – in the case of schoolgirls – to miss school rather than risk being caught short.
The Labour Party has pledged to give free sanitary towels to schools, homeless shelters and food banks if elected; they want all women to be able to access these essential products even if they cannot afford to buy their own, and will either provide them for free or will at least get rid of VAT on sanitary products.
In the meantime, we are very happy to support Bloody Good Period at our Alexandra Palace store
by providing free storage and publicity for this vital cause. We sincerely hope that widespread change is brought about – could 2018 be the Year of the Woman after all?