Raising Awareness of Period Poverty

The tone of my article this week has a more serious message. I aim to target the stigma which has long-silenced the talk about periods: the challenges, how we are affected, how heavy they are, how long they are, how we cope as women, whilst also increasing the awareness of period poverty in the UK.

 

Period poverty affects 1 in 3 women (lunette.com, 2018) demanding more attention and funding, both from the general public and the government in order to support the girls and women every month who are without any accessible sanitary products. The ignorance of students complaining of ‘being broke’ but spending £80 on alcohol on a night out somewhat puts into perspective a more chilling image of the girls who are forced to prioritise spending their pennies on food and sacrifice basic hygiene necessities. This problem is easily dismissed as a third-world problem because, of course, isn’t everyone able to access sanitary products? Unfortunately, this is far from the case: the reality is much closer to home.

As a society, we need to raise awareness about period poverty. On a small-scale, you can contribute by donating sanitary products to charities and non-profit organisations around the UK which aim to provide free sanitary wear in schools. Girls are missing a week or more of school every month because of their period, as significant embarrassment is associated with a period if it leaks through the school uniform, or the smell becomes obvious. Research from Always finds that ‘6 in ten females who experienced period poverty were bullied at school’ establishing a malicious cycle of underachievement which progresses far beyond education. Missing this amount of time at school each month will have a detrimental effect on attainment, confidence, happiness and therefore learning, which is why providing free sanitary products, being conscious of the preventable reasons behind pupil absence, and identifying those vulnerable to period poverty – perhaps through the Free School Meals eligibility – would reduce the negative effect of periods on academic achievement. I remember when I was at school and I first started my period during a P.E. lesson. I was only 13, and the sense of vulnerability mixed with shock and the embarrassment of getting dressed in the changing room with a visible stain on my clothes is still branded into my memory as my worst day at school.

I went to see the school nurse and she provided me with my very first sanitary pad - and off I went to manage the situation for the short-term. That is the point I am trying to make – this short-term effect of handing out one pad during the often unexpected emergency of a period is not enough. It will help for the first few hours, but not in the long-term for the girls who need more than one pad in a day because there are none available at home. The expectation that there are always pads in the cupboard hides the desperate reality of adapting a lifestyle without, such as putting some toilet roll or a pair of old socks in your knickers. You can only imagine how messy and uncomfortable this is, with the tissue paper gradually crumbling into smaller pieces, and the sock slipping out of position, neither of which replace the function of a sanitary pad or tampon very well.

Global companies such as Always are supporting this movement with the community organisation The Red Box Project to #EndPeriodPoverty, so far donating over 14 million pads to help support girls in schools across the UK. Teachers are targeted on their website: ‘If you teach at a UK state secondary school with at least 1% of girls eligible for free school meals, you will be entitled to receive free Always pads to help keep your girls in school’ (https://www.always.co.uk/en-gb/about-us/endperiodpoverty) to help encourage this implementation into schools. But how can you help? (you already are by reading this article!)

​1. Raise awareness of period poverty: write articles, speak to friends and family, utilise social media – provoke and normalise the discussion.

2. Support charities and organisations: like/share/subscribe to their social media pages and websites for up-to-date changes and how to donate: The Red Box Project, The Homeless Period, Always, Bodyform, Falcom Support Services, Maya Miko, Ink Kind Direct to name a few … but don’t let this limit you.

3. Keep an eye out for campaigns and ways you can get involved.

 

By Eleanor Wright

Image sources and links

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