PCS believe that no person with a period should be caught short and that period products should be free in workplace toilets the same way that toilet paper and soap are made available. And even though most of our members are currently working from home, which a Left Unity led union fought for, I believe it’s important to remember that the period dignity campaign encompasses so much more than the fight for free tampons or towels. It’s about unity. It’s about sisterhood. The call for ‘Period Dignity’ is about smashing the stigma and breaking the silence surrounding something that is so very natural. From menstruation to menopause and everything in between, we need to keep talking about it, all of it.
The Period Dignity Campaign which was moved by DWP Glasgow branch at National Conference 2018, very quickly started to gain momentum and our union (along with the various Women’s Advisory and Equality Committees) continued to highlight the importance of this campaign across our workplaces and beyond.
In May 2018 Celtic Football Club took the decision to provide the right to free sanitary products for fans. This campaign was set up by 3 football fans, all of which are working class women. Celtic, a club who have long been committed to working class values and set up with the purpose of alleviating poverty in the East end of Glasgow, were the first football club in the UK to install free dispensaries in the stadium toilets. 110 clubs across the UK have since followed suit.
When this was announced, it was myself and another couple of branch members who decided to submit an emergency motion to our trade union national conference, calling for free products to be installed across all workplace toilets in the civil service. If Celtic can do it, we thought, why can’t we?? The motion was unanimously carried and is now part of PCS Union national policy. It was an LU led NEC and GEC, who took this to the cabinet office and fought for this along with branches all over the UK calling on their management to install the products. This makes me genuinely proud to be a member of PCS, and a trade unionist full stop. This campaign serves as a reminder that collective action is alive and well and while trade unions have been weakened, we are not weak.
Scotland is now the first country in the world to have passed the ‘period products (free provision) bill’, where products will be made available for people on a low income and this would not have been won without the work of trade unions, including PCS, who were thanked by the MP Monica Lennon, for all our hard work.
I believe this victory gives our campaign to get products in all workplace toilets across the civil service some leverage. And while the pandemic may have changed the direction and dynamics of the campaign slightly, I still believe this to be a unifying cause. I still maintain that our campaign can be used as a catalyst for building the trade union movement and can of itself be a vehicle for social change. Let us not underestimate what our period dignity movement symbolises and how far we’ve come.
Let’s face it…a global pandemic does not stop periods. And it certainly doesn’t stop poverty, especially after 11 years of austerity and a relentless civil service pay freeze. And while many of our members are now working from home and therefore no access to workplace toilets, the campaign still goes on. A menstrual bleed can still be an extremely difficult time for us, and not just hormonally. It can be upsetting or triggering if we are in the office or not. There will undoubtedly be members working from home, who prefer to be there whilst menstruating or menopausal, but we cannot assume that our members are free from period poverty just because they aren’t in an office. There are still members who are triggered by their period who, for example, might be trying to get pregnant, or who have experienced miscarriage, or abortion, or menstrual dysphoria, or endometriosis, and many other conditions and they still need supported. There are still members working from home who are experiencing the menopause, some early, which can bring on very unpredictable and painful heavy periods. I hope these members know that our union still represent them, and that they don’t need to suffer in silence.
Our campaign also fights for every parent who has had to steal from a shop or who have kept their daughters off school because they have been forced to choose between food, a comfortable period, and an education for their children. We’re still here for you. And for the 138000+ UK schoolgirls who have truanted from school because they could not afford the products, this movement is yours. And for those who have had to use toilet paper, tissues, newspapers, socks, t-shirts, and other items of clothing to soak up their blood because they can’t afford a tampon or towel, this fight is for you.
Our Period Dignity campaign for free products in the workplace, which we will win, sends a loud and powerful message of sisterhood, solidarity, and unity, ultimately providing a platform of resistance. Period Dignity is about shouting from the rooftops that as women, we are not second-class citizens, we don’t have to suffer in silence, and we won’t lie down. This movement, lockdown or no lockdown, pandemic or not, should be used to carry sisters throughout this country and beyond, and I believe that a LU led union can still lead the way on this. And we will.
Clare is standing for the DWP GEC as part of the Left Unity slate. Click on the image for more information.