Period poverty is an issue in Cambridge and the university needs to do more to support students

No student should have to decide between eating or buying menstrual products, period.

It’s 2021 and period poverty needs to end. There is a misconception that period poverty – the inability to purchase period products – is an issue that is not prominent within the UK, and more specifically within Cambridge. But with nearly 25% of those who have periods in the UK struggling with period poverty, and 51.6% of Cambridge students finding purchasing period products to be a financial burden, sadly, this is not the reality. The university must do more to provide substantial and accessible menstrual products to support students experiencing period poverty. Nobody should have to suffer for something they cannot control.

With inequality levels rising as a result of Covid-19, this is an issue that requires immediate action, and now. In Cambridge especially, high rates of homelessness, coupled with a large student population – a number of whom are struggling to afford period products – means that the university must do more to help ease the crisis that many in Cambridge are currently facing. 

Period poverty is a real and prominent issue within the UK

On a UK wide level, 40% of menstruating people have admitted to having to use toilet roll in place of sanitary protection, as they could not afford period products. Such situations are not only detrimental to people’s mental health, but also pose serious physical health risks, increasing the risk of infection, and toxic shock syndrome. At a time in which anxieties around personal health and hygiene are higher than ever, students and the local community should not have to add period poverty to their list of things to worry about. 

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With period products now being provided to students in all English primary and secondary schools, Cambridge needs to follow suit, and step up in providing students with the basic items needed to help them go through each cycle without the stress of worrying about if they have what they need to stay safe. Currently, around 85% of colleges provide free menstrual products to their students. However, over half of Cambridge students surveyed by Global Health Cambridge said they weren’t able to access such products, often due to poor implementation or the limited nature of schemes. 

Indeed, 47% of colleges currently set aside less than £100 per year for the provision of period products. With the average menstruating person spending £128 on period products annually, such minimal funds are a far cry from what is needed. The overall picture is stark, with the Cambridge Student Union also reporting that over 25% of the 31 colleges at Cambridge fail to provide any period products to their students. Whilst colleges such as Clare already offer students economic support through the Pandemic Period Relief Fund, the university and many colleges still have a long way to go. 

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Cambridge has continuously made statements about its commitment to improving accessibility into the University. However, accessibility must be maintained after entrance. The university must offer the necessary financial support for students throughout their time studying, and this includes giving period poverty the attention and resources it deserves. 

In an already intense environment, such decisions should not have to be made by Cambridge students. Whilst it is impossible for some to imagine the distress students who are unable to access appropriate products must face, over half of Cambridge students who menstruate reported funding menstrual products a “financial burden”, with 12.5% reporting this burden was “persistent.” This is a real and troubling problem, and the university needs to act to support students who are experiencing it. 

As said by Lydia Seed, the founder of The Cambridge Period Project: “Nobody should ever be forced to decide between buying menstrual products or buying food and other necessities.”

The pandemic, and Colleges’ responses to the lockdown have exacerbated period poverty

Covid-19 has caused immense financial difficulty for people across the UK, and worsened the mental health of many. Period poverty has unfortunately been no exception – in fact, the charity ‘Bloody Good Period’ has noted a massive rise in those facing period poverty in the UK since the beginning of the pandemic. The charity has supplied 53,000 menstrual products since the start of the pandemic in March –  nearly six times the amount it was supplying before. The closure of many community and educational institutions has also hindered the supply of free period-products, making access to essential toiletries even harder. 

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For students relying on their college providing period products for them, being restricted to their home could increase economic and emotional stress. The harsh and insensitive responses of some colleges towards students wanting to return is completely dismissive to the hardship students may be facing at home, where there is the significant risk that academic stress will be combined with wider economic concerns to cause even more stress. At the bare minimum, the university could have pointed students to resources such as ‘Bloody Good Period’ (a charity which provides free sanitary products) in its emails, to inform students on where to get help whilst they are studying at home. 

In short, no student should have to suffer from something they cannot control. The university needs to be more vocal in its awareness of how period poverty affects its students, and deliver active changes in how they provide access to period products, in order to help the students they claim to care about.

You can sign The Cambridge Period Project’s open letter to show solidarity and support to those facing period poverty.  

Feature Image Credit: Madeleine Anderson

All other image credits @thecambridgeperiodproject via Instagram 

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