Anguish as women unable to afford sanitary products during coronavirus outbreak

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Libby Wiener

ITV News has heard the heartbreaking effect the coronavirus pandemic has had on teenage girls and women as they have been left unable to afford sanitary products.

With schools closed, the girls and women couldn’t get free sanitary pads as they normally would - and many poorer families couldn’t afford them. Now teachers stepped in.

Rajveer Kaur told ITV News she has a "duty to do this for our girls".

She said: "Sadly there are many cases where vulnerable children and families, they don't even have access to buy pads, because for them it's a choice of do I buy nappies for my child or do I buy pads?"

A survey of 45 professionals working in menstrual hygiene management, water, sanitation and hygiene and sexual reproductive health rights found women are girls are facing:

  • 3 in 10 UK girls have struggled to afford or access sanitary wear during lockdown, with over half (54%) of these girls having used toilet paper as an alternative.

  • Restricted access to products through shortages or disrupted supply chains (reported by 73% of surveyed health professionals)

  • Restricted access to facilities to change, clean and dispose of period products (68%)

  • An increase in price of products (58%)

  • Lack of access to information and services (54%)

  • Reduced access to clean water to manage periods (51%)

  • A less hygienic environment for disposal of products (47%)

  • Increased stigma, shaming or harmful cultural practices (24%)

In Leeds, deliveries from food banks now also include sanitary products after pleas from families who were going without.

In Leeds, Chapeltown Youth Development Centre's 'Let's Eat' food bank project identified that period poverty was a particular issue due to the pandemic - and due to most educational institutions and community organisations that offer these products for free being closed - they are distributing their period products alongside their food deliveries.

Charities like Freedom4Girls are helping supply the goods.

Among the recipients include a mother and daughter.

“I had to use toilet paper. My mum taught me how to make pads out of toilet paper. Not having them for the who cycle, it’s very annoying. It’s very uncomfortable,” said the young lady.

  • Tina Leslie, founder of charity Freedom4Girls says period poverty is still 'a very hidden problem':

Her mother, Sada Abdalla said: “It was terrible. They don’t understand things like that.”

And in Wolverhampton, a 20-year-old student also told ITV News she has had to use a piece of cloth during her period because she cannot afford pads or tampons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Indu Indu, who previously worked at a beauty salon but most recently lost her job, described using a piece of cloth as a sanitary product as "itchy", "painful" and "uncomfortable".

Indu told ITV News: "Due to lockdown I have not pads and products so I have to use this cloth, when I use this cloth I feel very itchy I'm not comfortable going out using this cloth that's why I have to stay at home."

"We used to have permission for 20 hours work but due to lockdown we've lost our jobs that's why we have not money to buy pads and better products."

Furthermore, when everyone rushed to buy toilet roll at the start of the outbreak, women who relied on loo roll for a makeshift period pads were again left without.

Job losses have also severely impacted women who can just about afford food, who will not be prioritising sanitary products.

Manjit Gill, the Chief Executive Officer of Binti Period - a charity providing sanitary products to girls and women in the UK, India, US, Nairobi, Africa - has told ITV News about lack of loo roll on supermarket shelves and the embarrassment that is attached with having no sanitary products.

A government spokesman told ITV News: "Those on low incomes can benefit from our strengthened welfare safety net, where we've given councils an additional £500m to support the most vulnerable in our society, increased the Universal Credit standard allowance and introduced mortgage-payment holidays and tax deferrals."