Voices

How Flo Bank wants to dismantle stigmas & provide sanitary products to those in need

With one in four women and girls unable to afford sanitary products, Hemi Patel’s creative idea aims to shift the conversation around periods and provide a solution that brings about long-lasting change.

Izzy Ashton

Deputy Editor, BITE

Share


A growing number of brands, organisations and individuals have been working to shift the conversation and break the taboos and squeamishness which still surround women’s bodies. Campaigns such as #WombStories from Essity and work being done by charities like Bloody Good Period and businesses like social enterprise Hey Girls are helping to rewrite the narrative and create space for open, honest conversation.

But there is still a long-entrenched degree of shame attached to the discussion about periods, whether it’s talking about having them, or even the products used, particularly when those products are unaffordable for so many women and girls.

One in four women or girls are unable to afford sanitary products according to new research from GingerComms in partnership with campaigners from the Bloody Big Brunch. A study conducted in May 2020 by Plan International UK found that 30% of girls aged 14-21 struggled to access sanitary products during the lockdown in the United Kingdom.

While there are food, clothing and hygiene banks dotted around supermarkets and shops, Hemi Patel realised that there is not one dedicated source that provides women and girls with the sanitary products they need to simply exist. This is the driving force behind launching Flo Bank, easily accessible donation points that allow for people to donate sanitary products and for charities to distribute them.

Sometimes people’s privilege, including my own, can stop us from realising another person’s reality.

Hemi Patel

Just a ‘clever’ idea

Patel, who is currently studying Graphic Design at the University of Hertfordshire, said the idea came from a brief set by her lecturer to tackle damagingly pervasive societal problems. She chose to address the period poverty crisis within the UK. She explains: “In the beginning, I was just trying to come up with a ‘clever’ idea to raise awareness that would give me a good mark within my course. However, I began reading articles and doing research about the problem of period poverty in the UK and I was overwhelmed by the stories and statistics. It all started from there.”

Patel explains that following her research she realised that “I no longer was focusing on a creative and clever idea to raise awareness, but I had an idea that could potentially help so many women, trans men and girls across the UK.” She cites the work being done by AMV BBDO and Bodyform as an essential catalyst in shifting the narrative around women’s bodies.

She also explains that a driving force behind the campaign was to recognise her own privilege: “sometimes people’s privilege, including my own, can stop us from realising another person’s reality. I had to take a step back and realise that for some women, paying £2 to £5 for sanitary products monthly is not feasible.”

Not hidden but in plain sight

From the moment they start their periods, women and girls are culturally taught that the sanitary products they use are to be hidden, lest they inadvertently disgust the people around them. Tampons are slipped up sleeves and pads into trouser pockets to try and deny their existence entirely.

But Patel wants to stress that the Flo Banks will not be hidden; they will be in plain sight, placed in supermarkets and recycling centres. It’s a move that Patel hopes will “normalise periods and challenge the stigmas that come along with them, as well as providing an accessible way for women, trans men and girls across the UK to reach out and get the support they need.” As she adds: “The Flo Banks need to be seen by the many and the stigma of periods need to be erased.”

Although Scotland recently announced that sanitary products would be free for all those who needed them, they are the first and currently only country in the world to do so. It took twenty years of campaigning for the UK government to scrap the ‘tampon tax’ removing VAT from tampons and reflecting the fact they are not ‘luxury items’. In contrast items such as edible sugar flowers, Jaffa Cakes and private jet maintenance have never been classed as luxury items.

No one should feel compromised by their periods. No one should have to miss school because they don’t have the products they need. Periods should not be a barrier to education or push people into poverty. Ideas like Flo Bank are a vital part of both recognising a problem and also actioning an idea to bring about real, long lasting change.

Find out more on Instagram @flo.bank or get in touch with Hemi Patel directly if you are a brand, agency, business or individual who would like to support the campaign.