Monday, July 15, 2024
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Sanitary insanity at the library


I HAVE been wondering for some time why the library in Thames Ditton, a leafy and prosperous south-west London suburb, has been offering free sanitary towels. They are prominently displayed in a sizeable unit in the entrance lobby. The display also collects donations of sanitary pads. I have not heard of a shortage of sanitary towels in Surrey. They are widely available in the shops. Last time I looked, a package of 14 could be purchased at Aldi for 49p. Why would a public library, dedicated to lending books, diversify its remit in such a way?

Last year there was a large sign near the sanitary products display encouraging library users to get vaccinated against Covid-19. Having read that the vaccine can disrupt the menstrual cycle, I thought the provision of sanitary towels might be somehow related.

I finally asked one of the librarians why the library was offering sanitary towels. He replied that it was because the subject of periods was ‘in the shadows’. This was news to me. This is Surrey in 2022. I have not seen evidence of shame and stigma around periods, or of girls and women being unable to access sanitary products. The librarian changed tack, and said it was about the patriarchy, and mentioned that he had a sociology degree. He explained that the patriarchy was a state of affairs where women do not have rights. I said, ‘I am a woman. You are a man. What rights do I not have that you do have?’

He was speechless for what seemed a long time. I thought I must have asked the most terrible question ever asked in Thames Ditton library, possibly in the whole country, perhaps even as terrible as Matt Walsh’s question, What is a woman? In true Matt Walsh fashion, I could have said, You’re a sociologist; you must have some idea. But there was no opportunity to say anything more. The librarian, looking disgusted, turned away and retreated behind the bookshelves.

I went online in search of an explanation of what the librarian had been unable to explain. On the Surrey County Council website, Katie Stewart, Strategic Lead for Equality Diversity and Inclusion proclaims: ‘Surrey County Council is proud to be involved in this initiative in partnership with Binti International [a UK-based charity] to provide equal access to pads so no one need suffer the indignity of managing their period without period products.’ 

Again, I could not fit together reality and claims that girls and women in Surrey are suffering indignity related to their menstrual cycle or lacking sanitary products. I grew up in London in the 1960s. My mother, having been brought up by nuns in a Catholic boarding school, was not overly forthcoming on the subject of reproduction, but even she did not deny me sanitary towels.

I see by Ms Stewart’s job description that her career would depend on correcting various oppressions, exclusions and inequalities. She goes on to say that she hopes businesses will also provide sanitary towels to employees. Don’t businesses pay employees, who would surely prefer to buy their own sanitary products?

Binti International founder, Manjit K Gill, talks further about the ‘deep rooted barriers to breaking stigmas attached to periods . . . shared by all communities’. She calls for courage to challenge shame, silent suffering, lack of knowledge of menstruation, and lack of availability of period products, in the UK. Again, the issues do not seem to relate to the girls and women of Surrey in 2022. What is going on here?

Further research reveals that some cultures of India and Africa perceive menstruating women as cursed, dirty, promiscuous or shameful.

The National Library of Medicine in America explains that in parts of India menstruation is considered to be dirty, and women are sent to basic hutsoutside their villages during their periods.

Action Aid explains that Chhaupadi, an ancient tradition practised in some rural parts of Nepal, similarly involves banishing females to mud huts or sheds for the duration of their period, or even longer. It is believed they will otherwise bring their family bad luck, or ill health. The charity also reports that poverty and stigma cause an estimated one in ten girls in Africa to miss school when they have their periods.

So why is Surrey County Council presenting the problem as endemic amongst the population of Surrey? I can only conclude that high levels of immigration into the UK have imported the cultural practices and beliefs described above. Could it be that rather than suggesting these communities alter their attitudes, there is instead an effort to encourage a belief that the problems are endemic in the general population?

There seems to be a pattern here. A BBC website reporting on FGM clinics in the UK relates the experience of a victim to whom they refer as Jane, even though the likelihood of a woman or girl with a British name having suffered FGM is close to zero, I would think. The media have taken great care to suppress the imported cultural elements of grooming gangs. Perpetrators are described as Asian, though there has never been any case of Chinese people involved in the large-scale raping of children. The Islamic ideology behind the 2017 Westminster Bridge attack in which four died was no secret. Khalid Masood said in a final text message that he was waging jihad in revenge for Western military action in Muslim countries in the Middle East. However, the media and police continued to emphasise that Masood’s motives were a mystery. At a memorial service in Westminster Abbey the Dean of Westminster said that the UK was ‘bewildered’ about the motive, adding that ‘it seems likely that we shall never know’. The BBC reported that sectarian violence between Hindus and Muslims is very rare in Leicester, and is largely caused by social media and misinformation. Moreover, according to Leicester East’s independent MP Claudia Webbe, ‘extremist right-wing ideology’ was apparently the problem. 

It seems that large-scale immigration into the UK is requiring my belief in more and more impossible things. After all, diversity must be upheld at all cost. Indeed, thousands of English girls, victims of the grooming gangs, continue to be sacrificed at its altar.

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Sarah Walker
Sarah Walker
Sarah Walker is an artist living as part of a small English minority in South Kilburn, one of the more densely colonised areas of London. She visits Surrey regularly on family business.

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