These are the women who fought for free tampons in schools in Leeds

Free menstrual products for girls at schools in Leeds will help close the gap when it comes to period poverty, say the women who campaigned for them.

Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 6:00 am

Tampons and other products will be available in schools and colleges across the country from this week, the Department for Education announced on Saturday.

The publicly-funded scheme is to prevent girls unable to afford essential items from missing school and staying at home during their periods - an issue raised as part of what is described as "period poverty".

Both secondary and primary schools will benefit from the fund.

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Meet the women who campaigned for free tampons in schools

The announcement was made off the back of months of pressure from the #FreePeriods movement, which was spearheaded by 17-year-old Amika George after being inspired listening to a talk by volunteers at the Leeds-based cause, Freedom4girls.

Founded by Tina Leslie, Freedom4girls organises donation boxes for sanitary products you may have seen in supermarkets across the city.

Victoria Abrahams from the charity said: "We can still remember the message we received on Twitter from Amika, nearly three years ago.

"Amika, the incredible student who spearheaded the #FreePeriods movement after hearing us talk about girls in Leeds missing school because they couldn't afford period products, started a petition urging the government to introduce free products in schools.

Tina Leslie, who founded Freedom4girls in Leeds

"Fast forward to January 20, 2020, and it marks the day that schools in England will receive free period products funded by the Department of Education.

"For the first time in modern day England, tampons, pads and reusable products will be available to young women and girls for free, just like condoms and toilet paper have been since before we can remember."

One emergent voice in the debate around periods - and women's health issues in general - has been that of Paula Sherriff.

The former Labour MP for Dewsbury was a vocal supporter, while elected, of banning the "tampon tax" VAT on sanitary products.

Girls in primary and secondary schools will have access to free tampons and other essential items after a new fund was announced this week

She first raised the idea of introducing free period products in schools to ministers after hearing of girls in Yorkshire missing school while on their period.

Paula was also the first person to say the word 'vagina' in the House of Commons while lobbying former Prime Minister David Cameron on the tampon tax.

She claimed she campaigned "tirelessly" after hearing of girls missing school due to their periods, and tweeted on Monday that the news gave her "joy".

Speaking to the YEP, Paula said: "I was tireless - I literally stalked ministers in the corridors asking them, 'what are you doing - there are children in Leeds missing school because they can't afford tampons'.

Paula Sherriff, former Labour MP for Dewsbury, was instrumental in the campaign for free menstrual products in schools after hearing of the plight of girls in Leeds

"Some MPs, like Tracey Crouch, were fantastic, but others were less helpful and even denied period poverty existed.

"There has been a shift in attitude but I think there is still a long way to go. If you go to the toilet and there is no toilet paper, you would think 'that's vile'. It's really no different. Menstruation is not something we have any control over."

But the new fund goes further than simply providing a safety net for girls who can't afford the essential items they need one month.

PhD student Bethany Suggett, who researches period poverty and men's attitudes to menstruation, says a fund for free tampons and towels in schools would help "normalise" periods.

She said: "Hopefully this will help remind people that this is a normal biological function.

"School and home are the two main environments for children, so to have tampons and other items out, and know that as a young women you have that support at school, is so important.

"Unfortunately, there is still a lot of backlash against the government funding access to these products. Many men I have spoken to think that the cost of products could easily be covered by parents, which shows both a lack of knowledge about the experience of poverty, and how expensive having your period can be.

"People think they're going to be shelling out for every young woman's period when this is simply not the case. This is about girls feeling supported by their schools."

She added: "It's not just for the pupils either. I really hope this has an effect on how teachers view their role of care towards students.

"Male teachers in particular need to be more sensitive to female students' needs."