Ann Bonner is a life-long Trade Union activist and Labour Party member.
I have been reading Mrs Gaskell recently, she was an author who wrote about factory conditions and ‘fallen women’ in Victorian times.
But for all that I was shocked last year when I returned to the UK to see every doorway in the town centre filled with sleeping bags where people tried to keep warm often cuddling a dog.
We are sadly almost used to there being food banks and more recently the calls for rice and pasta has changed.
With more young women than ever living in poverty and/or homeless, the need for sanitary products has become a public issue.
I am part of Labour International, an organisation of 3,500 members outside of the UK. Some abroad for work others retired.
"This CLP notes that:
* Women missing work- and career-development opportunities
* Girls missing school resulting in around 145 days a year of lost education.
Therefore, this CLP resolves to:
* In particular that at the very minimum the 5% VAT on sanitary products is abolished. If this is not allowed under current EU rules, the abolition to be replaced with an equivalent subsidy
* free menstrual products are provided for students who need them, including girls entitled to free school meals, and available from both school and non-school premises such as pharmacies (to allow for school holidays)
*free menstrual products (including maternity pads) are made available for the women in the immediate household of students entitled to free school meals
*grants are made available, through local authorities and funded by the government, for independent social organisations to enable them to offer free or subsidised products (including maternity pads) to women and girls, including those who are homeless"
Many individuals donate sanitary products to food banks but we need a National solution. Each women before she reaches the menopause spends about £500 a year on this necessary item so when you have very little money it begins to look like a luxury rather than the necessity it is.
Many Trades Unions have discussed the issue, GMB, PCS, and Unite and are taking positive steps, for example even football clubs Celtic and Kilmarnock have free sanitary products at home matches for instance, Uni west Scotland has free products in their toilets so no women student misses class because of no money for these items
At a time when many women use newspaper or socks to catch the blood flow this unhygienic practice must stop.
Monica Lennon MSP Scottish Labours Inequalities spokesperson raised the issue last September with the Scottish Parliament. Many are worried that girls are missing school because they are too embarrassed to sit in a classroom with nothing to stop blood running down their legs.
On the Whitehawk housing estate in Brighton the food bank staff devised a scheme called “monthlies” most younger women are given a card that is marked each month in exchange for a box of tampons, day and night pads, deodorant, wipes and a bar of chocolate.
But these and many other helpful local initiatives despite being necessary are a sticking plaster when what is needed is a determination to end zero hours contracts, low pay and the lack of cheap homes for rent.
When I was a young woman I loved folk music and was very moved by Julie Covington singing “ Only Women Bleed”
It was as much a cry about women’s lives as menstruation.
That was 1978 over 4 decades ago and the problems for women, keep growing and seemingly new ones appear.