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A right, not a luxury

Unite launches Period Dignity campaign at Labour Party conference
Hajera Blagg, Monday, September 24th, 2018

Unite officially launched its Period Dignity campaign at the Labour Party conference this afternoon (September 24) to give free access to tampons and pads in workplaces across the UK.


Today’s national launch sees a range of materials go live, including a video featuring supportive comments from TV star Denise Welch as well as toolkits for Unite members to use in the workplace to encourage employers to sign up to the campaign.


Unite regional officer Suzanne Reid and Unite regional secretary Karen Reay (pictured) of the North East Yorkshire and Humberside region, where the campaign first started, hailed today’s national launch.


“We’ve seen fantastic support at the launch today,” Reid, who is leading the campaign, said. “Labour has committed to ending the tampon tax and period poverty in its manifesto, so their continued support with our campaign, which goes beyond affordability, is absolutely key. This is an issue that affects all women of all ages no matter their race or economic background. Everyone should have access to sanitary products. ”


Reid added that more and more reps have requested Period Dignity toolkits and have approached their employers about adopting Unite’s charter. She anticipates that the campaign will spread throughout workplaces in the UK in the coming weeks and months.


Reay explained that the message Unite wants to send with its campaign is one of dignity and equality.


“Every single woman has periods — without them, we can’t have children,” she said. “Alongside this most natural of processes that we owe our very existence to, women deserve that dignity.”


Reay likewise hailed support from the Labour Party.


“The response to our campaign has been nothing but absolutely positive,” Reay said. “It’s one of those campaigns we know will be a win from the very beginning. It’s a campaign that many think — why hasn’t anyone done this before? Now we’re just looking to take it to the next level.”


Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, who attended the launch alongside London Mayor Sadiq Khan (pictured) as well as other MPs and Labour Party attendees, praised the Unite campaign.


“This is a truly grassroots campaign that will take root and will spread like wildfire throughout the whole country,” McCluskey said as he thanked Reid and Reay for all their hard work.


period dignity labour

(L-R) Unite regional secretary Karen Reay, London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Unite regional officer Suzanne Reid


Beyond affordability


Reid explained to UNITELive how the campaign — which when it started as a regional campaign first launched at the Durham Miners’ Gala — was initially devised.


“We wanted to campaign against period poverty but we wanted to go beyond this and make it a workplace campaign too.”


“We’re aiming to make free sanitary products in workplaces the norm,” Reid explained. “One colleague of mine put it brilliantly – men don’t always use toilet paper but I bet they’re glad it’s widely available when they do need it. The same should be true for female workers. Women don’t always need to use tampons or pads but they should be there for them when they do – it’s that simple.”


Reid told UNITELive that the union is setting its sights even higher with its Period Dignity campaign.


“We want to change the entire conversation around periods,” she said. “No one should have to scurry off secretly to the toilet or feel embarrassed about menstruation.


“Having a period is a natural process that should never be a source of awkwardness. Unite believes that by changing perceptions we can tackle some of the wider issues around periods and ensure that no woman or girl faces period poverty.”


L-R Unite regional officer Suzanne Reid, Labour general secretary Jennie Formby and Unite regional secretary Karen Reay

L-R Unite regional officer Suzanne Reid, Labour general secretary Jennie Formby and Unite regional secretary Karen Reay


The number of young women who cannot afford to buy sanitary products is shocking – a Plan International UK survey found one in 10 girls or women aged 14 to 21 are unable to afford sanitary products. And more than one in 10 have had to improvise sanitary wear – for example wearing a sock or using toilet paper – because of affordability issues.


Unite is fully supportive of campaigns to tackle period poverty but Reid explained why Unite chose to go beyond affordability.


“Period poverty campaigns, which are in themselves absolutely crucial, may focus on, for example, donating sanitary products to food banks. We at Unite are seeking to complement this work because we believe we shouldn’t limit the conversation to affordability.


“Access to sanitary products should be a right. There are many instances when women may be ‘caught short’ that aren’t related to affordability – take for example women who are going through menopause but may still occasionally have a ‘surprise’ period.”


Rolls-Royce success

Unite’s Period Dignity campaign had its first major success after Rolls-Royce Washington in Sunderland earlier this month (September 3) signed up to the campaign’s charter and has agreed to offer free sanitary products at no costs in its toilets.


“In today’s world no woman should feel uncomfortable about menstruation,” said Unite convenor at Rolls-Royce Washington Gary Andrews. “It has been a taboo subject for too many years.


“Unite has encouraged the company to show its support by putting in free sanitary vending machines in all female toilets on the Washington Rolls-Royce campus as well as signing up our site to Unite’s period dignity charter,” he added.


“Unite’s workplace branch at Rolls-Royce Washington is also making a donation to a local women’s charity to help purchase sanitary products for women who are facing period poverty.”


Female staff at Rolls-Royce Washington were thrilled by the company’s support.


“I think it’s great that Rolls-Royce is supporting Unite’s Period Dignity campaign,” said Unite member and Rolls-Royce worker Alice Fletcher. “I know that I never need to feel embarrassed or ashamed about being on my period at work and I feel confident that I will never be ‘caught short’ with an unexpected period.”



Reay said that Unite is leading the way by also providing sanitary products in its own toilets at no cost.


“We are calling on employers to do likewise and follow the lead of Rolls-Royce in Washington by signing up to Unite’s period dignity charter,” she said.


“By making changes in our workplaces, our places of education, and in society, women and girls will be able to have a positive period knowing that they are able to access sanitary products.”


 Equality fight

Reid told UNITElive that beyond workplace campaigning, Unite is also working with the teaching union NASUWT to campaign for free sanitary products for both students at staff at schools. The union is likewise looking to link up with Hey Girls, a company in Scotland that makes a range of environmentally-friendly sanitary products.


Because Hey Girls donates a pack of pads or tampons for every product a customer buys, Unite is hoping workplaces that sign up to the union’s Period Dignity charter will use Hey Girls’ products, in effect tackling period poverty while supplying their workplace.


Reid added that Unite will not let up in the fight against the ‘tampon tax’ either.


“The government has said it will scrap the tax once the UK leaves the EU but we aren’t holding our breath,” Reid said. “It is an outrage that sanitary products are classified as ‘luxury items’ while items like pita bread and cream cakes are deemed to be ‘essential’.”


Unite national officer Siobhan Endean hailed Unite’s Period Dignity campaign as part of the wider fight for women’s equalities.


“Period dignity is essential to health and well-being at work,” she said. “Women workers should have access to women’s toilets, to regular breaks, with sanitary protection provided in all women’s toilets. Unite welcomes Rolls-Royce’s lead in signing up to Unite’s Period Dignity charter and we call on all employers to follow their lead.


“The Period Dignity campaign is part and parcel of Unite’s wider campaigning for decent pay and conditions for women at work. The best way to get a pay rise is through collective bargaining – women in workplaces across the UK are signing up to Unite’s membership. We say to all working women – join us!”


Find out more about Unite’s Period Dignity campaign, and how you can get your workplace involved, here.



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