Poverty is a serious problem - period

Recently, when I was stood in the supermarket check-out waiting to pay in the queue, I happened to glance over at a 30-something chap, clearly having been sent to pick up “something for the missus”.

Shuffling uncomfortably, he was not making eye contact with anyone. Of course the pack doesn’t scan so Sharon on the till shouts out “how much are these towels Clare?” The chap turns purple and walks out without paying and, more importantly, what he came in for.

I’ve had a think about this ..., why it should be something that makes the lad in question want the earth to open up and swallow him whole?

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Are we modern men these days? We can talk openly about issues such as homelessness, relationships, Brexit and any other topical crucial issues. But when are we going to feel comfortable about some of the more “taboo” issues that affect people we engage with, work with or may not be as far from our own front door as we think?

A subject that has been a recent issue to my mind anyway is “period poverty” - the fact some women and young girls are unable to access or afford sanitary products and, as a result, can suffer poor feminine hygiene and other detrimental effects to well-being or self-confidence that can result in bullying. It is a real sad truth that some girls, not necessarily on too tight a budget, simply struggle to get access to this most basic human need.

Fast forward two weeks and a couple of male teenage students at the same supermarket, arms full of sanitary towels, dropped them into donation bins, where those who need them simply take them. How civilised! This is a brilliant effort to ensure that this almost Dickensian problem can be tackled in a low key way without embarrassment to individuals in need. It’s not a dirty secret to be kept quiet. Are men embarrassed buying condoms?

To add insult to injury, women in the UK are still subject to ‘tampon tax” - a five per cent charge on sanitary products seen as a ‘luxury product’ even though men’s razors (also a luxury product) are not taxed. So much for equality, right? Research not only revealed girls are missing school, or parents are resorting to stealing in order to provide for their daughters, but period poverty has a detrimental effect on girls’ futures. Sadly, more than half of women who have experienced period poverty believe it has had a direct effect on their success, confidence and happiness. Shockingly, it also found six in ten females who experienced period poverty were bullied at school.

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There are 34 libraries, 43 secondary schools and 225 primary schools in Leeds. Wouldn’t it be good if they could include free sanitary products as part of a scheme proposed in December? The council hopes to work with partners to provide them with free sanitary products, alongside its network of community hubs and one-stop centres.

I went to a Catholic school where issues were simply not discussed. Maybe if they were, openly, we would be better equipped so that when we have our own daughters they don’t need to “talk to your mum about this”.

In truth it’s as much a natural thing as breastfeeding and childbirth, it’s life.

Going back to the chap from the supermarket, I paid for his towels and dropped them into the White Hart for him, in front of his pals stood at the bar, with a “I think you forgot these pal!” After all, we are modern men, right?

By David Kelly, guest columnist

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