Ahead of International Women’s Day, Minister for Women and Equalities and Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt, today (4 March) announced a new UK government campaign to break the silence and end period poverty globally by 2030.
In many developing countries, it is estimated that half of all women and girls are forced to use rags, grass and paper to manage their periods. A lack of access to products, and the stigma and taboo that still surrounds periods, can force them to miss school or work, or even to live in isolated huts during their periods each month. In the UK, Girl Guiding UK found that 26% of girls aged 11-21 feel embarrassed talking to people about their period, and 21% had been made to feel ashamed or embarrassed about their period.
In a speech at Church House today, Ms Mordaunt announced a new campaign to end period poverty globally by 2030 which includes:
- £2 million in UK aid support, through the Department of International Development (DFID), to help organisations which are already working to stamp out period poverty around the world;
- A new advisory taskforce of government departments (including the Department of Health, Department for Education and Department for Work and Pensions), manufacturers, retailers, social enterprises and charities. A pot of £250,000 funding will kickstart this work, which will also lever funding and expertise from the private sector to develop a sustainable solution to period poverty in the UK; and
- AmplifyChange has commited £1.5 million to support 54 projects working across 27 countries to help girls to manage their periods with dignity. This is part of UK aid’s ongoing support to the multi-donor fund AmplifyChange
Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt said:
Empowerment starts when you are young. Girls should be able to focus on their education and their future without being worried about or embarrassed by their periods.
There are British entrepreneurs and businesses already doing fantastic work to tackle period poverty and I want us to partner and support them to really make a change to the lives of those who need it most.
This is a global issue. Without education, women and girls around the world won’t be able to take the steps to reach their true potential.
Responding to the announcement, Anna Miles, co-founder of The Red Box Project, a non-profit that supplies free period products to schools said:
The Red Box Project is glad to see the Government finally acknowledging its responsibility to tackle the issue of period poverty, both in the UK and overseas.
However, the announcement of a “task force” to address the issue in the UK seems to reflect a disappointing lack of urgency from the government in alleviating the issue for those currently struggling to access essential menstrual products.
We remain committed to the #FreePeriods campaign, calling on the Government to provide funding for free menstrual products in all schools and colleges. No child should have to miss out their right to an education because they have their period and are unable to afford pads or tampons.
Celia Hodson, founder of the period poverty charity Hey Girls, also welcomed the announcement, but insisted this should build on existing initiatives and avoid the wastefulness of previous government programs:
We hugely welcome the Minister announcement today. I’m hopeful that the task force will build on to the many innovation programs that have been already been developed to address period poverty whilst the government considers a policy change around access to menstrual products .
Many of these are grass route led and like Hey Girls Buy One Give One, sustainable environmentally and a viable business solution. Let’s not spend £250k reinventing the wheel when scalable solutions are already making a social impact. And let’s ensure that a much greater percentage of the £2m fund is spent on product, not management and delivery as with previous government funded programs.
In her speech Ms Mordaunt set out some of the life moments that prevent women from being able to achieve their goals:
- By the time their first child is aged 20, women have, on average, been in paid work for four years less than men
- 20% of women aged 55-64 are informal carers
- Lower earning women taking short breaks to care for children and returning to work part-time accumulate less than a third of the private pensions income of a man working full-time
As part of the GEO’s work to support all women, in February Ms Mordaunt also announced £500,000 to support vulnerable women – including victims of domestic abuse, homelessness or substance abuse – to return to work.
To ensure the GEO is at the heart of the government’s work on equalities, it will join Cabinet Office from 1 April. GEO will work across government and with business and civil society to tackle persistent inequalities that limit economic empowerment at every stage of life.