‘I donated 30 million period products so nobody would suffer period poverty like I did’

Posted: 4th April 2023

Period poverty is an issue faced by one in eight people in Britain, as menstrual products cost money that families who are struggling to pay bills cannot always afford.

Scotland has already introduced the Period Products Act which provides free tampons and pads to anyone who needs them but the rest of the UK is yet to follow suit.

Often periods are surrounded by social stigmas and shaming, even though around half of the population will menstruate at some point in their life.

These are compounded by similar stigmas associated with poverty – despite the fact a growing number of us live hand to mouth.

Kate Smith knows the impact of period poverty only too well as throughout her life she has faced poverty along with her family.

The director and co-founder of Hey Girls told The Mirror: “When I was a child, my mum was a single parent and it was hard, she worked but we very much lived on the breadline. We’ve relied on food parcels, so we understand how difficult it can be.”

When their situation stabilised, Kate’s mother Celia Hodson suggested they create a company to give back to those still in need.

Together, with sister Bec, the three founded social enterprise Hey Girls that produces and donates menstrual products to stop others facing the same “degrading” problems.

Hey Girls use a “buy one, donate one” model so for every pad, tampon, cup or pair of pants sold, they donate like-for-like to community partners who work with those in poverty.

Since founding Hey Girls five years ago, the company has now donated over 30 million period products to those in need. They are now expanding beyond the UK into Australia, where Bec lives.

Kate explains this is different to some other projects as often donations are not matched exactly, with Hey Girls if you buy a pack of tampons then an entire pack will be given away – not just one or two.

“We started off with a really small group of community partners, people like Freedom4Girls who very much work on frontline with people who are experiencing poverty,” shared Kate.

“We’ve grown that now to about 250 different community partners up and down the UK. They tell us exactly what they need and we deliver.

“We also provide them with lots of education as well because we know it’s not enough to just give out period products – it needs to go with adequate periods education.”

Worryingly, ActionAid found that a quarter of women don’t understand their menstrual cycle, which Hey Girls tries to tackle through education in schools and other projects as well as product donations.

Period poverty means people must go without during their menstrual cycle, suffering not only from the usual pains and discomfort but also being forced to free bleed or put themselves at risk.

Kate explained: “Going without means bleeding into your clothing, which is common for those who don’t have adequate period protection.

“[People are] using products for a longer period of time than stated on the packaging, therefore, putting yourself into quite an unsafe territory with internal products so using tampons over the eight hours.

“We know that people who are experiencing poverty get absolutely the most out of products, really pushing that usage.”

For those who don’t have actual period products at hand might turn to “homemade pads”, made from “newspapers or socks”. People turn to anything they can, which are “not as dignified and not as comfortable” as real products.

The period educator added: “What’s really important to remember is that people also fall in and out of poverty. So it’s people who may one month may be able to get by and things are okay.

“Then the next month, they’ve got a massive electricity bill that’s absolutely wiped them out. It’s the kids sat next to kids in the classroom, it’s the lady stood behind you and the person serving you, it’s the person in the NHS looking after you.”

Source: The Mirror

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