A collection of rural towns dotted throughout the Welsh valleys, Rhondda Cynon Taff is perhaps not the place you’d expect to find the answer to period poverty. It could be about to change the way we tackle the problem though, thanks to a 25-year-old local councillor.
“Think of it as toilet paper,” Elyn Stephens, a Plaid Cymru Councillor tells me. “You wouldn’t be expected to bring in your own toilet paper to school or ask a teacher for toilet paper. My older sister is ten years older than me, her niece is ten years younger than me, and in thirty years nothing has changed.”
Frustrated at the lack of change the politician decided to take matters into her own hands, bringing a motion to council that all secondary schools in the borough should provide free sanitary products to pupils. Similar to a recent pilot scheme by the SNP in Aberdeen, the move would mean those who are unable products would be able to get them safely and discreetly.
‘You wouldn’t be expected to bring in your own toilet paper’
The move is estimated to cost about £70,000, something Elyn says is a “drop in the ocean”, especially when councillors have all been provided iPads at a similar total cost.
“What’s scary is there’s so little information about how many absences there are [due to period poverty],” she adds. “But it’s not just about absence. You can be in a lesson, but you’re not concentrating because of the worry.” Earlier this year a report from Freedom4Girls found pupils were missing class every month due to their periods, while a RightsInfo investigation discovered thousands of women were relying on food banks to get through their monthly periods.
‘People assume it’s a done deal’
Image Credit: Skye Baker / RightsInfo
Campaigners have called for national action to address the issue, however, Elyn believes local councils and grassroots campaigners can also make a real difference. “I think it’s a two-way approach, to be brought up on a national level, so people feel more comfortable talking about it, but it also needs to come from the grassroots,” she explains.
Now the motion has passed in Rhondda Cynon Taff, officers will prepare a report on the feasibility of the scheme, which will then go back to the council for final approval or dismissal. However, whatever happens in the county, Elyn thinks the most important thing is that younger people get involved in politics and raise the issues which matter to them.
If you have predominatly older men in charge, nothing changes
“A lot of older people and men just assumed sanitary products were given out in schools. That it’s a done deal. And if you have predominantly older men in charge, nothing changes. I’m not the average age of a councillor. I’ve been involved in youth politics and this was a topic we discussed, so it was just normal. It was almost a shock it hadn’t been raised somewhere it could make a difference.
“If anyone takes anyone from this, speak to their daughters, their nieces, their sisters and find out the situation in their school. People are not having these conversations and people assume it’s being taken care of. Find out the situation and lobby your local council.”