A Councillor who led the charge to ensure every Sunderland City Council-run building offers free sanitary products is calling on the city’s businesses to follow suit.
Labour Councillor Kelly Chequer, who represents the Southwick Ward and is also deputy portfolio holder for health and social care, led a drive earlier this year which saw the council back Unite’s ‘period dignity’ campaign – a national initiative to tackle period poverty and make sanitary products more accessible to all.
According to research by Plan International, one in ten girls between the ages of 14 and 21 in the UK has been unable to afford sanitary products, while 49% have missed an entire day of school because of their period.
Cllr Chequer said: “Nine years of Tory and Lib Dem austerity has crippled us as a country and it is a crying shame that such initiatives even need to be considered in a country like Britain in this day and age.
“Having a period is a completely natural occurrence and shouldn’t be a source of awkwardness for anyone in today’s society. Women and girls do not choose to have a period, a period is not something people ask for, but still comes at an expensive monthly cost.
“A great many young people are unable to afford sanitary products and so it was a huge boost for the city when councillors voted to ensure that the city council backed Unite’s ‘period dignity’ campaign – but that is just the start.”
Working alongside fellow Southwick councillor, Alex Samuels, the pair have also secured funding to help those in the voluntary sector – and alongside The Salvation Army – have helped make sure local people who need to rely on food banks always have access to sanitary products.
She added: “Working with Alex and the Salvation Army, we’ve been able to ensure that those who need them most in our community can rest assured that they don’t have to go without, what should be, a given-right for every member of society.
“We are delighted to have the Salvation Army’s support. While there, we met and chatted with the wonderful volunteers, Lavinia and Maureen, who make up the food parcels for those in need and we couldn’t believe the scale of the problem; it was absolutely shocking.”
Everyone Active, which operates eight leisure centres and facilities across Sunderland on behalf of Sunderland City Council has signed up to provide free sanitary products to its staff and now Cllrs Chequer and Samuels are now urging other businesses to follow their lead, and that of the council and the Salvation Army, and provide free sanitary products for their employees and customers – as well as lobbying the UK Government to remove VAT from all sanitary products.
“The next target for us it to continue raising awareness of period poverty among the city’s business community and to ensure employers are committed to providing sanitary products not only for employees but also for their customers,” she added.
“We’re also lobbying for the removal of VAT from sanitary products. Sanitary products are essential to women and girls’ dignity and charging VAT just isn’t right. We will continue to campaign to ensure it is removed and to put pressure on the Government to enact this change.”