Period poverty campaigners have welcomed the news that Boots is to support the drive to help women and girls struggling to pay for basic sanitary products.
Britain’s biggest pharmacy chain will trial an in-store donation point to allow customers to gift desperately needed sanitary products for distribution to a local food bank, as well as contributing as a company. If it proves successful, Boots will consider rolling out the scheme across the country.
Boots made the announcement following a meeting with the shadow minister for women and equalities, Paula Sherriff, on Wednesday and will pilot the scheme in her Dewsbury constituency.
Una Kent, director of communications and CSR for Boots UK, told the Guardian: “Boots UK has always understood that access to basic hygiene items is hugely important for personal health and wellbeing, indeed the first non-pharmacy product we sold over a hundred years ago was a soap and sponge. Supporting the essential hygiene needs of people is as vital today as it was then and it’s these items that are often most needed by food banks.”
Sherriff is one of a cross-party group of MPs that has been raising the issue of period poverty – when women and girls struggle to pay for basic sanitary products on a monthly basis, with significant impact on their hygiene, health and wellbeing – which was highlighted by the Guardian on Monday.
Lobbying in the Commons has been led by the tampon tax champion Laura Coryton, who successfully persuaded the government to scrap VAT on sanitary products in 2015, to highlight the Homeless Period project, which aims to increase the donation of sanitary products to homeless shelters. It follows a similar campaign in the Scottish parliament lead by Scottish Labour’s inequalities spokesperson, Monica Lennon.
Following Monday’s article, Proctor and Gamble – one of the companies specifically targeted by the Homeless Period – contacted Coryton to put her in touch with In Kind Direct, an organisation which redistributes product donations to charities and gave away around 10,000 packs of sanitary products from P&G last year. Coryton now hopes to work alongside P&G to encourage similar companies to do the same.
While the demand for women’s sanitary products has been evident to food banks and homeless shelters for some time, the recent focus on the humiliating consequences of period poverty in the Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake brought menstrual inequality into the mainstream for the first time.
Sherriff told the Guardian that she hoped the move by Boots, whose market is predominantly women of menstruating age, would encourage other companies to take corporate social responsibility seriously. But she said there was a wider need to consider whether women should be paying for sanitary products at all when items like condoms and prescriptions are free to those on lower incomes.
The Dewsbury MP added that there was also a need to look particularly at the female experience of poverty. “We often talk about people in poverty, but the latest research from the House of Commons library shows that women are disproportionately affected by the government’s tax and benefit changes by 86%.”
Supporting the Homeless Period campaign in the Commons chamber on Tuesday, Sherriff highlighted the fact that public attitudes towards menstruation continued to hinder attempts to raise awareness: “When I started campaigning in this House on the tampon tax, some honerable members recoiled, while others did not even want to talk about periods or tampons, as if the words themselves were obscene. I do not regret providing such a culture shock to this place – quite the opposite – but that reaction exemplifies why the issue of homeless women’s access to sanitary care is so widespread and terribly underestimated.”