The National Union of Students has voted in favour of making sanitary products including tampons and towels available to women who cannot afford them.
Delegates at the NUS’s annual conference on Tuesday this week voted in favour of a plan that would encourage student unions to subsidise the cost of tampons, menstrual cups and sanitary towels.
Women spend on average £6 for each monthly cycle on sanitary projects, amounting to more than £77 per year. NUS delegates called this situation “classist”, leaving those who cannot afford sanitary wear in a position of “period poverty”.
The NUS took a similar stance in 2016, when they created a #FreePeriods Toolkit which was disseminated to student unions nationally. It provided information about the economical, ecological and health benefits of investing in sustainable sanitary wear.
The toolkit pointed out the discrepancy between giving out free contraceptives from sexual health clinics whilst not giving out free sanitary products vital to the “health and dignity of half of society”.
Recently, campaigns such as #TheHomelessPeriod have highlighted the difficulties menstruation poses for women who must chose between purchasing sanitary products and spending their money on other essentials such as food.
This reality was evocatively depicted in the 2016 Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake, when the protagonist Katie resorts to shoplifting sanitary products from a local shop.
Last year, the government came under criticism for it’s Tampon Tax, which justifies charging VAT on sanitary wear, unlike some other medical necessities, because they constitute a “luxury product”.
Some Cambridge colleges have already begun to offer free sanitary products to students. At Newnham College, a box containing sanitary towels and tampons has been made available to students at the Porters Lodge.
Whether or not student unions will be able to provide them completely free or for a reduced fee at other UK universities will depend in part upon the size of the campus.