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University launches free sanitary products scheme

The University of York is one of the first universities in England to address period poverty

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Tampons and sanitary pads will be made freely available to all students on campus for Spring Term between January and March, with the launch of a brand new scheme from Free the Flow.

The University will fund three dispensing machines located in the Library foyer, Spring Lane Building and the Ron Cooke Hub. The University said it hoped the machines would be installed by the start of January but there have been delays. However it is hoped the machines will be in place by the end of this month. Free the Flow, which started as a York University Student Union (YUSU) volunteering society in 2019, conducted a survey in 2020 with 264 students from the University of York. Results showed 11.4 percent of students had to go without sanitary products due to not having enough money.

Nationally, research from Plan International UK showed how one in 10 could not afford products showing the importance of the campaign to end period poverty. The YUSU President, Patrick O’Donnell, hopes the new trial will tackle period poverty which, as Free the Flow explains, is the lack of access to menstrual health products due to financial constraints.

In 2018, the Scottish Government decided to fund free menstrual products to young people in schools, colleges and universities across Scotland. The Welsh Government followed suit in 2019, offering free products to all state schools and colleges. England, funded by the Department of Education, also introduced the latter scheme in 2021. Crucially, however, England made no provision for Universities.

The University of York had some prior provisions, but products were only available at college and YUSU receptions on a “very ad hoc basis.” In the new trial, period products will be made available via pad and tampon dispenser machines, which can hold up to 100 products. Importantly, the menstrual products are 100 percent organic cotton and comfy, with pads coming with wings and a sticky back.

Patrick O’Donnell said: “I’m pleased that the products we are providing are sustainable and are in degradable packaging."

The trial has a view to expand, depending on initial demand, but if successful it may become a permanent fixture. Free the Flow hopes the University of York will be the “first English university to (successfully) implement free period products on campus.” Free the Flow’s survey also found that 42.8 percent of students have had to miss University due to their period. With the average period lasting five days, Free the Flow explained how “menstruating students will miss approximately 60 days throughout the academic year.”

Providing free menstrual products is in line with the University’s strategy of Student Mental Health and Wellbeing (2017-2020). This strategy “aims to ensure that [the university] offers an environment in which students can reach their academic and personal potential.”

As one student who was surveyed by Free the Flow explains, “no one should be denied [sanitary products]. The less of a stress accessing period products is, the more students can comfortably focus on their studies and the rest of their lives.”

The University’s Academic Registrar, Dr Wayne Campbell, states “The University of York is committed to tackling period poverty” and so, if the demand is there, the promising scheme may become permanent.

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