A third of young people across the UK are missing school due to a lack of access to period products and the shame surrounding periods in schools.
Irise International has brought together young activists across the UK to launch its campaign Every Period Counts, to shift the shame from young students and calling on those in power to bring a much-needed end to period poverty through shame-free access to period products in all schools.
New data commissioned by a group of UK charities fighting period poverty; Irise, In Kind Direct, Cysters, Freedom4Girls and Bloody Good Period shows a third of young girls are missing school due to a lack of care or access to period products, which equates to over 3 million days missed every year. Nearly half (44%) of girls have difficulty accessing free period products at school, and a further 44% of girls feel too embarrassed to ask for period products at school, and a quarter (24%) have been too embarrassed to notify a teacher when they have started their period.
The study also found 61% of girls have had issues accessing toilets in lessons when on their period, and a further 25% had to justify exactly why they needed to go to the toilet, leaving one in four girls (24%) having to hide their period products when accessing a toilet at school.
One student told the study: '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.'
The Every Period Countscampaign is capturing horror stories of young people across the UK, with over 100 stories submitted in the first 24 hours of the campaign going live and with over 600 stories flooding in so far. These first-hand accounts reveal the shocking reports of students being denied access to toilets in lessons and being left to bleed onto 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.'
Alarmingly, more than 1 in 10 schools still don’t provide free period products, with 13% of girls stating that their school/college doesn’t offer free period products at all. Education is still a big problem, too, with a huge 52% of girls saying they have never been taught how to use period products at school or college.
The Every Period Counts campaign intends to show schools, local councils and national policymakers why Period Dignity matters to Young People.
The campaign is calling for Period Dignity to be realised through three key actions:
All UK schools to make free period products available in a shame-free way to everyone who needs them.
The UK government to commit to a new action plan to eradicate period poverty and shame in UK schools by 2025
Politicians to make period dignity a right by legislating for it in England and Wales
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.'
The campaign is equipping young people, supporters and partners to reach out to schools, local councils and MPs to call for more action. Schools and local councils in England and Wales will be called upon to enrol in the free Period Product Schemes and take simple steps to ensure access is shame-free. MPs in England and Wales will be called upon to make the free period product schemes mandatory for all schools and colleges and to make period products available for free to all young people, not just those living in poverty, which only increases the stigma.
Plan International UK’s Head of Policy, Advocacy and Research, Amelia Whitworth, 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.
'We were encouraged by the Government’s action to supply free period products in schools, but it is clear that many young people still face barriers to accessing the products they need. We stand with Irise campaigners, shedding light on their experiences in order to see the change that is long overdue. It is vital that nobody misses out on learning because of being on their period.'
The campaign will culminate with a parade in Westminster on May 28 at 2 pm where the official period counter, along with stories from students across the UK will be shared with No 10 Downing Street. Head toEvery Period Countsto learn more and join the campaign for Period Dignity for young people in the UK.