These college JCRs are sending free menstrual products straight to your door during lockdown

‘While lockdown unfortunately continues, so do periods’

As of September 2019, 27 out of 31 Cambridge colleges were giving out free menstrual products to students. But ever since term ended and lockdown started, those reliant on such products have been faced with the difficult task of sourcing their own.

In recent months, discussions about period poverty have crept increasingly into mainstream media. A survey conducted by Plan International UK found that three in 10 girls aged 14-21 have struggled to afford or access sanitary wear in lockdown. Stockpiling from supermarkets especially has made it harder for people to even find hygiene products in stores.

Eve Herzberg, Gender Equalities Officer at Downing, decided to step in and set up a scheme to send free sustainable products to people’s homes, courtesy of the JCR. Downing has already had 30 individual orders this term, using a form where people can state their addresses and product needs.

This improvised program has quickly been picked by other JCRs, including Selwyn, Girton, Sidney Sussex and Queens’, but has not been without its logistical difficulties. Marianne Porter, another Gender Equalities Officer at Downing, tells The Cambridge Tab that while she feels lucky her college is willing to pay for the scheme, “the annoying thing is that we as officers have to pay with our own money and get refunded later, which takes a few weeks.”

JCR officers like Eve and Marianne have been willing to support this scheme with their own finances, and this would have come at an even greater cost to them if Eve had not managed to negotiate discounts with the products company.

The company that JCRs are sourcing from currently is TOTM, an ethically-conscious and cruelty-free brand that uses 100 per cent organic cotton to make tampons and sanitary pads. Most menstrual products in supermarkets are made of 90 per cent plastic, which can be toxic to the body, and take thousands of years to decompose.

The sustainability of JCR-provided products is particularly important for Eve, who says that whilst they have been giving tailored menstrual products to students for a few years now, sustainable options are often more expensive and wouldn’t usually be covered by college costs.

“Since we weren’t going to be able to use our term budget for events or speakers, I just contacted a bunch of sustainable period product companies. TOTM was extremely understanding of how it might be difficult for students to afford or access period products right now, let alone sustainable ones. I decided to contact the other college officers to try to get it going Uni-wide.”

Photo credit: Author’s own screenshot

Eve’s idea is certainly working its way through the University, and this has raised questions about why JCR Officers are paying for products, instead of the University itself. Christ’s is the most recent college to implement the programme for Easter Term, and their Women’s Officer, Giulia Armiero, suggests:  “Although providing free, sustainable period products is indeed an extraordinary scheme of which I am proud to be a part of, we should nevertheless be asking ourselves why it’s taken us this long to have this conversation, and whether the money should truly have come out of limited JCR college-specific budgets, and not University, or even government pockets.”

On the future of schemes like this in university contexts, Marianne says: “I suppose the main thing is that products continue to be an essential item, and shouldn’t be a cost that people worry about. I think what’s often overlooked is that some people may find discussing menstruation with their families uncomfortable, and therefore feel they have to provide for themselves when they wouldn’t do for soap or shampoo, for example, which are equally essential.”

As Marianne has said: “While lockdown unfortunately continues, so do periods, so there is no reason why we should stop!” 

Featured image credit: Charissa Cheong