Labour-led Bristol City Council tonight became the first local authority in the UK with an action plan to effectively tackle period poverty, after a Labour motion received unanimous cross-party support (56 for, 0 abstentions, and 0 against).
Councillor Helen Godwin – appointed as the first Cabinet Member for Women in the country by Bristol’s Labour Mayor Marvin Rees – has secured commitments from local businesses, charities, and trade unions to ensure that every single schoolgirl in Bristol will have access to free sanitary protection. She will convene a period poverty summit next month to bring together a range of city partners.
Moving the motion, Councillor Helen Godwin said:
“It is certainly progress that we are at a point in history where this chamber can openly discuss women’s issues and periods… Despite this progress, today’s issue is one that simply shouldn’t belong in twenty-first century Britain and it is a travesty that we need to confront the huge issue of period poverty in our city. We are swimming in statistics on this issue, all of which confirm the fact that too many of our girls and women are unable to afford or access sanitary protection during their period. As we rapidly head towards 10 years of Tory austerity we find ourselves hearing stories of Dickensian poverty – foodbanks, malnourished children and women and girls using rags, socks, tissue napkins as makeshift sanitary protection…
“I would like Bristol to lead the way and to be a trailblazer authority in terms of how we tackle this issue. I am not interested in an empty motion that promises much but delivers little. Partnership working proudly and unashamedly defines this administration; we know the answers to the problems cannot only be found in City Hall…
“I have commitment from businesses, charities and trade union colleagues that they will support our intention to ensure every school girl in Bristol has access to free sanitary protection. Yes, the intention is to make pads and tampons universally available because we know that although this is largely a financial issue, we want to give every young women access to products…
“So here is the plan and the pledge that will bring tonight’s motion to life. Next month I will host a Period Poverty Summit to enable us to come together with relevant partner organisations and schools to map out how we ensure that all girls in Bristol from year 5 to 13 can access pads and tampons in their school. We will make this happen.
“Secondly we will think about educating the city about periods. We know that some girls are not being allowed to leave the class during lessons despite having their period. We need to educate around the issues that can come from this, bullying, isolation and shame.
“We know and understand the power of charity and generosity of Bristolians, and so we want to ensure there is a coordinated approach to donations in the city and we hope to work with partners such as Fareshare and the RedBox to make that happen.
“So there is much to do, and this is far from an empty motion on one of the issues of the day. By gaining your support tonight to pass this motion we can all be proud to be on our way to becoming the first city in the UK to effectively tackle period poverty. It is my hope then that our daughters and granddaughters will never have to consider whether they can afford to have their period.”
Notes to Editor
Councillor Helen Godwin was elected to represent Southmead ward, amongst Bristol’s most deprived communities, in May 2016. She has previously served as vice-chair of Tooting constituency Labour party, working closely with then-MP and now Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to set up jobs fairs. After returning to her home city and being elected to the city council, Councillor Godwin served as chair of the council’s human resources committee where she oversaw work to implement the Living Wage Foundation’s Living Wage across the authority and ensured that Bristol City Council and its wholly-owned companies such as Bristol Waste rank amongst the best in city on equal pay: https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/business/gender-pay-gap-how-25-1417071
Labour Mayor Marvin Rees appointed her as cabinet member for women, children, and young people, and lead member for children’s services last year – the first dedicated executive member for women’s issues at any local authority in the country. She has since led coordinated efforts with the police, clinical commissioning group, and local charities to work to eliminate domestic violence: https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/must-end-domestic-violence-against-1311743 and launched a ground-breaking children’s charter which has been signed by Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn MP and is inspiring the work of other cities around the world: https://thebristolmayor.com/2018/08/01/our-childrens-charter/
Full text of the Bristol Labour Group’s motion passed at tonight’s meeting of Full Council is as follows:
“Full Council notes:
- One in 10 girls and women aged 14-21 are unable to afford sanitary products while even more have had to improvise sanitary wear using items such as socks, tissues, newspaper, napkins, and/or toilet paper.
- Almost 140,000 girls and young women, particularly amongst girls who are in receipt of Free School Meals, have missed school in the UK the last year because they cannot afford to buy sanitary products.
- 91% of girls and young women say that they have been asked to buy a pad or tampon for a friend.
- Research which shows that a majority of women who have suffered period poverty also experienced bullying, while many also feel that it has affected their mental wellbeing and physical activity.
- That, in 2001, the then-Bristol South Labour MP Dawn Primarolo reduced the applicable VAT on such products to 5%, following a 1991 high of 17.5%.
- Despite years of campaigning by women such as Laura Coryton, sanitary products are taxed as ‘luxury’ rather than ‘necessary’ products – while private helicopters and antiques are exempted.
- The early successes of ongoing campaigns by Unite the Union and NASUWT around period dignity and period poverty, and the work of Labour-led Milton Keynes council and the Scottish Government in this area.
- Hey Girls’, whose Buy One Give One model donated almost 1.4 million boxes of menstrual products to girls and women in need in the UK in just six months, and other social enterprises and companies including Fareshare, the Red Box Initiative, and Always, have been at the forefront of tackling period poverty.
- Increasing awareness of environmental sustainability issues, particularly amongst girls and young women, around organic and reusable products such as period pants and menstrual cups.
- Work with local trades unions and employers – including Unite, the CWU, and Unison – being led by Bristol City Council which could deliver tens of thousands of pounds to provide free sanitary products at school for all girls in the city.
“Full Council believes:
- Periods are natural and female health is important; neither should be taboo subjects, in this chamber or anywhere else.
- Having a period should not be considered a luxury, it is not a choice but a decades-long and expensive reality of being a women.
- Everyone who needs sanitary products – including tampons, towels, pads, and other items – should have access to them.
- Education for children and young people within science and PSHE lessons is crucial to eliminate misplaced stigma and awkwardness.
“Full Council resolves:
- To endorse Bristol City Council’s efforts to work with civil society and other partners to ensure that nobody in Bristol suffers from period poverty.
- To ask the relevant executive members to continue to encourage local schools, including primary schools given the increasing number of girls beginning their periods as early as age 8, to complete the Health Protection Badge which includes the provision of sanitary products.
- To ask the relevant cabinet members to carefully consider the results of the Bristol Pupil Voice report, due to be published by the end of the year, and other data with colleagues from across the ACE directorate (including observations of Members serving on the Adults, Children & Education Scrutiny Commission) to monitor experiences and attitudes into the future.
- That Officers prepare a report on how many education days are lost every year to period poverty in Bristol. These findings should then be presented to the relevant Scrutiny body and form the basis of a formal submission to Central Government highlighting the educational problems this issue is causing and calling for a comprehensive, coherent and coordinated approach to tackling this inequality.
- That its members should, while endorsing the work of the Labour administration to provide free sanitary products for all who need them in schools and civic buildings, reach out to local employers in their wards to encourage them to provide them on site for staff and visitors.”
Details of Unite the Union’s national period poverty and period dignity: https://unitetheunion.org/campaigns/unite-demands-period-dignity/
Labour-led Milton Keynes Council’s pledge in September 2018 to work with a social enterprise to get sanitary products into schools: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-45412611