The Students’ Union at the University of Sunderland is set to decide whether to continue offering free sanitary products for all students.
The Free Period campaign was launched in 2017 under then Vice President of Wellbeing and Engagement, Kirsty Paterson.
The initiative, which launched on the back of coverage of the period poverty epidemic, aimed to provide students across both campuses with access to free sanitary products. Yet, despite being hailed a success by the Students Union, the future of the campaign is uncertain.
Period poverty is prevalent across the UK. At the end of 2017, Plan International UK reported that 12 per cent of girls have been unable to afford sanitary wear and more than one in ten have had to improvise sanitary wear due to affordability issues.
It is a huge issue for women and girls in the North East: a recent report by The End Child Poverty Coalition claimed that just under a third of children in Sunderland – and over half in some parts of Newcastle – are growing up in poverty.
“If a woman can’t afford food, she’s not going to be able to afford sanitary products,” said Emma Chesworth, co-founder of the Free Period NE campaign in Tees Valley.
— Free Period (@FreePeriodNE) October 11, 2017
“The North East has some of the most deprived areas in the country,” she continued. ”You can’t avoid having your period, it’s going to be a cost and if we can get rid of that cost for women and girls, it can only be a good thing.”
Over the last year, Free Period NE have been working with Public Health England and local authorities to launch a pilot scheme, offering free sanitary products in all schools, colleges and public buildings throughout Tees Valley.
“It’s something that certainly we would hope that the Student’s Unions might want to take on board,” said Emma. “There will be a cost implication and we make no apologies for that because it’s relatively small, and women and girls who don’t need them won’t take them.”
Huge thanks to shoppers at Sainsbury's in Stockton for all the donations for @FreePeriodNE Together we are tackling #periodpoverty and helping #women and #girls have their period with dignity. TY. pic.twitter.com/kkwZmsk6mf
— Emma Chesworth (@EmmaChesworth1) April 19, 2018
Local sports clubs in the North East are also making moves to tackle period poverty. Last weekend, Darlington FC and Darlington RFC kicked off their On The Ball campaign at their shared Blackwell Meadows ground. The campaign, which originally launched in Scotland, will see free sanitary products made available in all female toilets at the ground for the rest of the season
Emma said: “These campaigns can only help to normalise it and bring it into everyday conversation.
“It’s brilliant that Sunderland University tried it and it would be fab to see it carrying on… we’ve got to have something sustainable until it becomes just the norm that sanitary products are available.
She added: “The bottom line is none of us would be here if it wasn’t for periods.”
Whether the Free Period campaign will continue at University of Sunderland is dependent on funding and is set to be decided in the coming weeks.
Adam Gorn, Policy and Campaigns Senior Officer at the Student’s Union said: “The Free Period campaign was on the back of national press around young women and girls not being able to access sanitary products at school and there being what was called a poverty period epidemic.
“At the time lots of students did come in and visit us and actually asked for these products, which showed that there was a need and that these products weren’t accessible. Particularly on St Peter’s Campus, it’s been successful for those who aren’t able to access anything in the buildings and aren’t near any local shops.”
He added: “We know through other campaigns supporting local people in the community, that students and staff at the university are quite willing to donate items too. We think it’s a great campaign and hope to continue with it in some form over the year.”
And students at the University are also keen to see the campaign continue.
“We don’t ask for it to happen, but if I can’t buy them in the shop on campus and it does happen while I’m at uni, I’m going to miss out on my education,” said 19-year-old Criminology student, Megan Bell.
Beth Callaghan, 21, a Fashion Journalism student, said: “If condoms are free, [sanitary products] definitely should be, it’s a lot easier to refrain from sex than it is a period,”
While Lucy Metcalfe, 19, also studying Fashion Journalism added: “I think if it affected both genders then it would already be done.”