Period Power: Periods and prisons in the UK

Recently we’ve been shedding some light on why periods are powerful in society, not just in developing countries but right on our front door step too.

From #PeriodPoverty, to girls missing out on school and even period shaming through the media (ugh, not cool!) we’ve still got a long way to go for menstruation equality! That’s why we’re all about the #PeriodPower this year.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be diving into how people are affected by attitudes towards periods in different walks of life including in schools, the workplace, homelessness and beyond.

Why are we talking about periods in prisons?

Globally there are over 700,000 women in prisons at this moment, with some of the highest numbers in the US, China and Russia. Regardless of why they are there or what kind of facility they are in we would all agree that, like their other gendered counterparts, they should have access to basic health care and sanitation (treatment of women in prisons around the world is a huge important topic, but one we can only touch upon briefly in this blog post! If you’re interested in reading more check out what The Marshall Project wrote!)

Unfortunately this is where menstruation can really affect your quality of life, to the point of risking the physical and psychological health of many of these women around the world. Whether it’s a lack of access to proper shower facilities, help with severe symptoms or, most commonly, even lack of access to enough period products. Most rely on tampons and pads rather than menstrual cups, so these have to be provided regularly.

Prisons may seem like a far off world to you and me but we all care about others having access basic human rights and the biases that affect menstruators in prison are also a reflection on what happens outside the prison walls too.

Periods in Prisons in the UK.

In 2016 women accounted for 10% of all prison receptions, bringing the female population in prisons to over 4000 after having doubled between 1995 and 2010.

The reasons for this climb are complex and require its own focus all together but, regardless of the reasons, are UK prisons managing their policies to adhere to the specific needs of female prisoners (or prisoners in general who menstruate)?

In short? No.

In a recent Watchdog investigation the government was warned that urgent action was required to tackle systematic issues in UK prisons when it comes to hygiene and menstruation. Few women are offered the suggested “hygiene pack” with basic supplies and there is little privacy for the changing of period products and washing. This is not just about comfort and convenience but potentially a breach of human rights…
... and it’s happening on our doorstep.

Katie Kempen, chief executive of the ICVA, said: “Dignity in the cells must mean dignity for all. No woman or girl should be left bleeding in a cell in indignity simply for want of a difficult conversation or an inexpensive box of tampons.”

In fact, other studies reveal that 68% of institutions were providing unsatisfactory standards and that there’s a high level of “menstrual distress” in the prisoners. One woman describes: ‘I was at reception and I asked for a tampon but wasn’t given one. Then I had to be examined and there was blood trickling down my legs.’

In another case a woman had her clothes removed and was dressed in a paper suit. Despite her having her period, her underwear had been removed and she was refused any sanitary protection.

Is this good enough? No, we didn’t think so either.

Periods in UK prisons: What needs to change?

The Watchdog investigation is a great catalyst for getting this talked about in parliament and the Home Office said it was working closely with the ICVA and NPCC “to understand where improvements can be made on this issue.”

More and more women are being advised on what their rights are and what to demand when they enter the prison system….but we all know that the real change needs to come from parliamentary action and more understanding and education about periods in society as a whole. This is really what #PeriodPower is all about!

And when we have radio DJ’s joking about how women actually don’t need that many supplies on the period *dramatic eyeroll* we know that the big changes are yet to come.

We are also on the lookout for organisations and charities who are working in this area so we can promote their work (and maybe you can get involved!). If you know of any let us know in the comments or on Facebook.

With Menstrual Hygiene Day on the horizon this is also a perfect time to be taking to social media and demanding more! Join us and se the hashtags #PeriodPower, #MHDay and #MenstruationMatters.

Menstrual hygiene isn’t and should not be a luxury, it’s a basic human right and a necessity every menstruator should have.

Find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more period power talk!  

Image: courtesy of Netflix

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