Next week will mark a year since I made my maiden speech in the House of Commons as Labour’s youngest MP, but yesterday it seems that I did something even more momentous.
I apparently became the first member to tell the chamber that I was on my period.
It’s good that this has had so much coverage, but that a woman has said she’s on her period – something that happens to half the population every month – has made such big news just shows how far we need to go to break the taboo.
“The average cost of a period in the UK, over a year, is £500. Many women can’t afford this.”
Labour MP Danielle Rowley asks Minister for Women Victoria Atkins what the government is doing to address period poverty. pic.twitter.com/qSTZMEjFlz
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) June 28, 2018
And while most of the people who’ve since been in touch with me on social media have been hugely supportive of what I did, a few have questioned how my period has cost me £25 this week.
So pay attention. Here’s the science bit…
First of all I buy three different sizes of tampons. You should never wear a tampon that’s too big for your flow because that can be dangerous and is often painful. So you need the smaller ones for when your flow is light.
I have really heavy periods, so I need to get the biggest ones as well and the medium ones for in between days. Sometimes my flow is so heavy that I need to have the bigger sized tampons and wear a daytime pad as well.
For nighttime I buy night pads, because I prefer to feel that I can sleep peacefully and not have to think about getting up in the middle of the night to change my tampon if my flow is heavy.
Some women have medical conditions such as endometriosis and therefore may have much heavier periods where they need to change their sanitary products every hour.
Menstrual cups are a great low-cost reusable sanitary item, but some women aren’t able to use them, and the point is we should have the choice.
I bled through while at work this week, which happens to many women and can be very embarrassing. So I had to nip out of the office and buy new pants and tights. All of this adds to the cost.
I also get really painful periods and have to buy a combination of drugs to help manage the pain. Sometimes I buy the branded period medication, because it often does seem to work the best, but can be quite expensive. I also buy Co-Codamol over the counter because sometimes that’s the only thing that does the trick.
I get feverish sometimes too and more thirsty than usual – so I buy lots of drinks to make sure I’m hydrated and to help with headaches that sometimes come as part of the package.
The gory details are not pretty, I’ll admit. But it’s important that people understand just how much periods can cost women – if they are lucky enough to have the money to spend on them.
The truth is many don’t, and the loss of dignity that entails for those women and girls is not something I think should be suffered in silence.
It’s a political challenge for my generation not only to break taboos, but also to break the cycle of period poverty that results in absence from school, absence from work and even unemployment.
I’m proud of the work done by my Labour colleague in Holyrood, Monica Lennon, to tackle period poverty in Scotland. And in Wales, a Labour Government has committed £1m to ensuring free sanitary products will be distributed via community groups, schools and foodbanks.
But this is an issue which knows no borders.
In my constituency office in Midlothian I provide free sanitary products out of my own pocket. However, direct action can only ever be part of the solution to period poverty when essential items like sanitary wear are still taxed as luxuries.
In 2000, the Labour government cut VAT on tampons from 17.5 per cent to 5 per cent. That was a good start, but 18 years later it’s time to take the next step and zero-rate them. Government should also fund our local councils to ensure free sanitary products are available in public buildings.
It would be a fitting tribute to the women who, exactly a century ago, won us the vote if my generation of female parliamentarians could make that happen.
Danielle Rowley is the Labour MP for Midlothian.