For people who have never struggled to afford sanitary products, it can be difficult to comprehend the grim reality of period poverty. A tenth of girls and young women in the UK have struggled to pay for pads and tampons during their periods, with 12% resorting to using socks, rags, toilet roll and even newspaper in their place, according to research by Plan International UK.
Now, one social enterprise is harnessing the power of newspaper advertising to hammer home the extent of their hardship. Hey Girls UK, a not-for-profit company that donates one pack of pads to girls and women in need for every pack it sells, has released a proactive 'make your own sanitary pad' campaign highlighting the lengths some women and girls are forced to go during their periods.
The double-sided ads feature a cut-out outline of a sanitary towel, with 'fold' printed on its wings, and invite people to "make [their] own sanitary pad" out of newspaper. It's a powerful reminder that, far from being simply an advertising gimmick, this is real life for many women and girls in the UK.
"One in ten girls in the UK can't afford sanitary products. Every month they're forced to use loo roll, socks or even newspaper," the ad reads. "Help us end period poverty. For every Hey Girls box of pads you buy, we give a free box to a girl who needs it."
The ads ran in the Metro newspaper and The Big Issue for free on Monday to coincide with the brand's products launching in UK supermarkets for the first time.
The products, which are chlorine and bleach-free can also be bought online at £3.25 for a pack of eight pads and between £3.60 – £4.70 for a box of tampons. Hey Girls has already donated more than £85.5k boxes of pads and 42k boxes of tampons via food banks, women's centres and schools since it launched in January this year.
The company's Scotland-based founder Celia Hudson was about to retire from a career in the social enterprise and charity sector when her daughters Becky and Kate spurred her on to start her own. She was inspired to create the company by her own experience of single-parenthood and an understanding of "the financial strain of buying sanitary protection when you’re on a tight budget, bringing up a family and struggling to survive on benefits."
Speaking about the campaign, Hudson told Refinery29 UK: "We want people to be shocked and take a moment to stop and think. The thought of having to fashion a pad by scrunching up paper or socks and putting it in your underwear instead of wearing a suitable product is an awful one. People think that this is something that only happens elsewhere in the world, but it’s also happening right here on our doorstep, in the UK.”
“We thought it was really important to set up a sustainable way to address period poverty that’s not reliant on the government and donations. So we set up Hey Girls to tackle Period Poverty via something that we all do every month – purchase menstrual products. We provide an alternative shopping experience for those wishing to make a difference with the items they purchase for themselves every month. By buying social, customers are doing good directly via each pack they buy."
Hey Girls is also backed by period poverty campaigner Amika George, the 18-year-old powerhouse activist behind the #FreePeriods campaign, which is pushing for free sanitary products for girls who receive free school meals. George described the sale of the company's pads in UK supermarkets as "a hugely important milestone in the fight to end period poverty in the UK."
She added: "No girl should ever be missing out on her education because of her period, but with Hey Girl's buy-one-give-one scheme, more and more girls will be able to go to school with dignity, confidence and be the very best they can possibly be.”
You can buy Hey Girls sanitary products in store at Waitrose and Asda or online via the company's website.