An overwhelming number of classes are being missed by school students – all because of a lack of access to period products, and ongoing shame.
As many as a third of young girls aren’t attending school, equating to over 3 million days skipped every year.
In a bid to undo some of this, Irise International, a charity which advocates for period equality, has launched its campaign, Every Period Counts, to remove the sense of shame from young students.
Research, which comes from Irise as well as a collective of UK charities, In Kind Direct, Cysters, Freedom4Girls and Bloody Good Period, found that nearly half of girls have difficulty accessing free period products at school.
They also found a further 44% of girls feel too embarrassed to ask for period products at school, and a quarter have been too embarrassed to tell a teacher when they have started a period.
With all of this to navigate on a monthly basis, it’s no wonder girls are avoiding lessons – especially when 61% can’t use a toilet during a lesson, and 25% need to justify to teachers why they need to go.
The means period products brought to school get hidden too.
One student said: ‘My teachers don’t let me go to the toilet on my period. Or just at all.
‘And the ones that do, let me say I can’t take my bag, but then everyone would see my products.
‘I wish they’d put some in the toilets, like on the wall in the cubicle, so you could just have them there and then.’
In the first 24 hours of the campaign going live, over 100 people reached out to share their bad experiences of having a period while at school – so far, over 600 people have contributed.
Many stories involve students being left to ‘bleed on their seats’.
Tilly, aged 16, from Cardiff, said: ‘During my year 10 English language exam, I leaked on my exam chair and went two hours sitting and not saying a word.
‘At this time, products were hidden away in the cupboards, and none were available in the exam venue.
‘At the end of the exam, I broke down as I didn’t know what to do. My school had locked the girls’ toilets, and we only had one unisex toilet.’
The emotional weight of these experiences – especially at school, when children aren’t known for always being the most understanding or kind – can take its toll.
Education around periods is still a big problem as well, with 52% of girls saying they have never been taught how to use products at school or college.
Campaigners are calling on schools to make period products free and available, and for the government to commit to ending period poverty by 2025.
Emily Wilson, CEO of Irise International, said: ‘Young people are sick of missing out on class, sports and other opportunities because society won’t prioritise their basic needs.
‘They are done with feeling ashamed and are claiming their right to menstruate with dignity in UK schools.
‘Despite policy and budget commitments, more work is needed in UK schools to realise the government’s vision of ending period poverty and shame for all by 2025.
‘Period poverty and shame are getting worse due to the cost-of-living crisis, meaning that more young people are experiencing anxiety and indignity every month and missing out on crucial education as a result.’
She is keen to see period products available for free for all young people, not just those living in poverty, as this only increases stigma.
Amelia Whitworth, Plan International UK’s head of policy, advocacy and research said: ‘Girls have told us time and again both in here in the UK and globally that, lack of access to period products and the shame surrounding periods, is directly impacting their education.’
A parade will take place in Westminster on the May, 28, at 2pm where stories from students across the UK will be shared with No10 Downing Street.
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