A couple of years or so ago, during a meeting with female refugees in a camp in Burma, it became clear to me that the translation was inadequate: Something the women were telling me was demonstrably making them very upset, yet the male translator gave a quite implausible explanation given the level of emotion with which the original statements were being expressed.
I sought the assistance of a Catholic priest who explained that there was a shortage of sanitary products and they couldn’t afford to buy any, with the result that teenage girls had to miss school during their periods.
It was one of those rare moments of power where, as a minister, you could fix a problem by issuing an instruction for ‘action this day’, and I did.
Recently the Red Box Initiative was brought to my attention by local campaigners who are supplying sanitary products direct to our schools in Lymington, New Milton, Ringwood and Fordingbridge.
Having come across this need in the desperate circumstances experienced by refugees in war-torn Kachin State, I was surprised to discover that the same applies even in the New Forest.
I understand that nationally, one in ten girls have been unable to afford sanitary wear.
It’s not always just a question of the expense however, some girls have difficult relationships at home and find it difficult to manage the whole issue of periods in their families.
I am always sceptical that any problem can be solved simply by government providing more money. Certainly, it would not help those young women where family circumstance rather than money is the root of the problem.
Even for those families living on benefits and in straightened circumstances, I have often been surprised at the choices that some make. In the USA expenditure would be conditioned by the rules of the ‘food stamps’ system. Here however, more generous benefits would not necessarily translate into a greater provision of ‘necessities’.
There is at least the prospect of a 20% reduction in sanitary product prices because the Government is pledged to zero-rate them for VAT when we make good our escape from EU regulation.
What I do find so very encouraging, is that public spirited individuals, having identified a problem, have set about doing something about it locally.
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