According to recent research from InKind Direct, 40 per cent of menstruating people in Oxford struggle to afford period products. This places us second in the top 10 cities dealing with the most period poverty, behind Brighton and Hove. In a city where a glance from our wealthy university to the stark housing emergency demonstrates its vast level of inequality, this figure is unfortunately not surprising.
A lack of access to period products can have a huge impact on people who menstruate. It can lead to people wearing period products for too long and using unsuitable or unsafe alternatives like rags and tissues. Many will have to miss school or work during their periods because they can’t leave the house. Not only is this unsafe, but it’s degrading and dehumanising, and it stops people from fully living their lives.
This month, Oxford City Council unanimously passed our Green Group motion to provide free period products across the city. This is a small step towards tackling period poverty, by working with local charities to make free period products available in all public toilets, including in the Town Hall and community centres. The motion will also see the City Council write to the County Council and national Government to demand similar initiatives on a larger scale.
Our motion builds on the amazing work of local projects like Wings, run by the Young Women’s Music Project. This incredible volunteer-powered organisation is already delivering free period products across our city on a monthly basis, along with other necessities like incontinence pads and nappies. Wings volunteers are embedded in the communities they serve and take great care to ensure people feel comfortable accessing their service.
But we believe the Council must take some responsibility for period poverty in Oxford, too. Access to free period products ought to be a basic right. They’re as much a luxury as toilet paper or a toothbrush. Anyone who has started their period unexpectedly and has managed without period products for a short period of time will have a tiny glimpse into what people living in period poverty experience every month. For too long, stigma around menstruation has made period poverty a hidden problem. We hope that by speaking out, and by supporting and expanding existing services, we can get free period products to more people who need them.
We are frequently asked whether there is room in this motion for providing free sustainable period products, and there absolutely is. Menstrual cups, reusable pads and period pants are cheaper than disposable options in the long run, while organic pads and tampons are better for both the planet and our bodies. Oxford City Council has committed to exploring options to provide these products, and we will push for them to be made available.
However, it is also important to make sure anyone accessing free period products has a choice about what they use, even if that choice is picking a tampon that will go to landfill. Whether it's due to cultural beliefs or an inability to reliably sterilise a reusable product, there are lots of reasons why disposable period products are the right option for many.
Passing this motion will not end period poverty in Oxford overnight, nor in a number of months. There’s no denying that this issue is deeply complex and well hidden. But by making free period products more accessible, we can ensure our Council is doing everything it can to liberate menstruating people from period poverty and encourage others to do the same.