SELMA RAHMAN: PERIOD POVERTY

Selma Rahman, Board member of Women for Independence, Scottish Independence Convention and grandmother talks to REEK about the cost of the curse.

It has been estimated that over a woman’s menstruating years, the cost of period products (PPs) comes to around £5,000, on which we pay VAT.  VAT is supposed to be levied on non-essential, ‘luxury items’: cars are luxury items. So when money is tight, period poverty strikes. The Scottish Government is spearheading a health and well-being initiative through Community Food initiative North East http://www.cfine.org/ (which covers low income Aberdeen homes over seven regeneration areas) to provide free period products for women.

Heat or eat; pay bills or cut back on food.

Can’t afford PPs?-stay at home-don’t go to school.

Can’t afford food? Stint on PPs.

Stint on PPs? Worry at work that your clothes are stained; stress-miss work-school.

Some women know the score! It seems obvious, so why has it taken so long for period poverty to be highlighted? Is the curse still so cursed that wider society continues to ignore it? It has to be ‘wider society’ that ignores it since women don’t! We live with it. For many months, years, and millennia – so many women, so much menstruation and so little knowledge of our herstory coming from our lived experiences.

Well, if are you sitting comfortably, let me tell you.

Long, long ago before anyone wrote anything, or drew anything on cave walls, the female of the bipedal upright species bled bright red blood, for no apparent reason and they didn’t die! There is a hypothesis that women in those early times were considered strong, miraculous beings while men were seen to bleed from wounds and then, surprise, they died. Even more miraculously women would grow big, bigger, even bigger and then, out came a wee being, along with more of that bright red blood. Sometimes the women died, but if they and the wean survived they then produced milk that fed the wee souls.

That was nothing short of powerful, miraculous: life bearing, life giving, birth, blood and milk all in the one being!

Think about it: no Google, no instant health info-look it up-self-diagnosis in those cave days. Equally, early nomadic life, on the move, didn’t leave much time for analytical thinking. So, the link between menstrual cycle, male penetration, subsequent pregnancy and birth took a long time to be established. It took millennia before a man wrote it down, so no one ever charted the thought–action–confirmation process or the real experience of the women.

When you’re written out of history, the chances are, you’re not the historians! You’re demoted or worse, ignored. Reduced to the menial, insignificant, and your very life-giving-life-signifying cycle is reduced to ‘untouchable’. This resulted in women frequently being removed to the very edge of society: literally, into separated areas of the ‘unclean’. But who truly knows if ‘menstrual huts’ to which women are still exiled in various regions world-wide, didn’t start out as warm, safe refuges that we created and chose to go to, to bond, to meet, to share our knowledge and experience. Our time, our space. So that degeneration and contamination, pollution associated with menstruation, must have influenced the development (or lack) of hygiene, pads and tampons over the millennia.

Let’s face it, if men had bled regularly, there would have been product improvement long before now! And it would have been free for centuries.

Much has been written, but in all probability, more has been forgotten in the evolution of PPs but one of my own favourites is http://www.mum.org : An early History Menstruation, Menstrual Hygiene & Women’s Health in Ancient Egypt by Petra Habiger that includes the hieroglyphic translation of text that gives some examples of “negative” careers such as a laundry worker, who has to wash the loincloth of a menstruating women: possibly a pad or rag? Even then, there is the implication that menstrual blood was impure!

It’s now mostly forgotten in the annals of WW1 that nurses couldn’t help but notice that the cellulose bandages being used on the wounded did a good job of absorbing blood compared to plain cotton. And the result? Nurses started to use the bandages during their periods. Needless to say, post war, this was taken up commercially by Kotex. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that we saw the advent of pads with sticky-back adhesive, meaning an end to belts and pins to keep the pads in place. (http://menstrualcup.co/who-invented-the-menstrual-cup/) Tampons probably go back to those ancient Egyptians.

But here and now, and the scandal of austerity, food poverty and period poverty…

Let’s applaud the Scottish Government’s initiative. If it proves an informed base for rolling this out across Scotland, and if the idea of an S-Card comes about (sanitary cards to be shown at participating outlets, chemists, supermarkets to receive free PPs, similar to the C-Card enabling access to free condoms), then well done womens’ groups across Scotland (www.womenforindependence.org/) that campaigned for this, raised funds to ensure PPs are part of food bank collection-distribution; lobbied MPs, MSPs, and well done to the elected officials themselves who have listened to the groundswell of public opinion.

In fact, well done Scotland! Not too wee and not too poor to understand period poverty and be prepared to do something about it.