Hera Crossan
Hera Crossan is a Personal Care Analyst at Mintel. Her background is in public relations consultancy, where she represented international financial services firms.

Period poverty is a growing social issue in the UK and, while it has long existed, its profile has been raised sharply in recent months. Lack of access to sanitary protection products is a problem for a large number of young women, with 10% of girls unable to afford to purchase them, according to research by Plan International. The same research also revealed that more than 137,000 children have missed school for this reason. If a girl misses school every time she has her period, she is set 145 days behind her fellow male students.

Raising awareness and rising up the agenda

Efforts have been made to raise awareness of the issue by a range of parties, from charities and politicians to manufacturers of sanitary protection products.

Earlier this summer, Labour MP Danielle Rowley made parliamentary history after announcing to the House of Commons that she was on her period during a debate on the cost of menstrual products and the problem of period poverty. The Midlothian MP called for the government to take action on the cost of sanitary products, saying she had already spent £25 on these products in a week.

More recently, North Ayrshire Council in Scotland announced that it would offer free sanitary products via vending machines in toilets in up to 100 buildings, including libraries and community centres. The council was already one of the first to introduce free sanitary protection products in secondary schools, where young women have access to more than 13,000 free products during the school year. Barnsley Football Club has also been praised for offering free sanitary products for women at their stadium, following work by campaign group On The Ball.

Sanitary protection brands take an ethical stance

In March 2018, Always launched its #EndPeriodPoverty campaign, which has so far donated more than 12 million pads to help girls who might otherwise miss school because of a lack of access to sanitary protection products. The brand has promoted this campaign heavily through TV advertising, helping bring the issue into the public consciousness. And Bodyform donated 200,000 packs of its products to women and girls unable to access or purchase products for themselves or their families.

In August 2018, independent sanitary products brand Hey Girls placed newspaper adverts featuring a cut-out pad with the phrase ‘make your own sanitary pad’, to highlight the issue of British girls having to improvise sanitary products. The company gives a packet of sanitary pads to a girl from a low-income family for every one it sells and has so far donated 850,000 packets.

Credit: https://www.heygirls.co.uk/shocking-reality/

Meanwhile, Mintel’s 2018 UK report on Charitable Giving found that over a third of adults have donated goods to a charity/foodbank in the last six months, rising to 43% of women. The elevation of awareness around period poverty as a serious and detrimental issue could inspire more females to donate physical sanitary protection products to local food and hygiene banks. Working as a nationwide community of women, The Red Box Project is an initiative that seeks to provide free sanitary items in schools by arranging donation points across the country.

Credit: The Red Box Project

As people become increasingly socially aware, it is likely to become more important for brands to stake out such social and philanthropic causes, in order to make their values clear to consumers. With younger people in particular keen to consume on a more ethical basis, this approach may pay dividends in the long term.