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New research details how period poverty is holding young women back

A recent poll found that menstrual issues were the most common reason for girls to be absent from school

Despite menstruation being the literal reason we’re all here, there’s always been a sense of shame associated with periods – girls hiding a tampon up their sleeves on the way to the toilet, the intense fear that comes with standing up in a busy classroom when you're on day one of a heavy period. Then, many girls and people who have periods across the country don’t have access to sanitary products at all.

Now, a new study has exposed the extent to which stigma and period poverty are affecting young girls. In a poll commissioned by hygiene services provider phs Group, it’s revealed that schoolgirls miss an average of three days per term due to period-related issues – more than for a cold, flu, holidays, or truancy.

Surveying 1,000 teenage girls, the poll found that nearly half (46 per cent) believe period poverty holds girls back from attending school, while a third (30 per cent) feel it’s hindering their ambitions.

Period poverty is an under-reported but widespread issue across the UK, brought into the spotlight in April 2017 by then-17-year-old activist Amika George. Her #FreePeriods campaign has been a huge success, with the government now pledging to offer free sanitary products in schools by 2020.

Though this is a step towards eradicating period poverty, there are still too many girls suffering right now, with phs Group’s survey finding that one in ten missed school in the last 12 months as a direct result of being unable to afford or access sanitary products.

“Staying at home, rather than bleeding onto their uniform, was often the only option available to them,” George told us in March when discussing girls’ response to her #FreePeriods petition. “They were compromising on their dreams and ambitions because they bleed, and are poor.”

As well as a lack of money, the new research found that nearly half (46 per cent) of the girls surveyed said more needs to be done to remove the stigma of periods. This is an issue also faced by homeless women, who are often too ashamed to ask for menstrual items when passers-by offer help. Speaking to Dazed in March, Katrina McDonnell, who runs The Homeless Period Belfast, explained: “One of the reasons period poverty exists is because of the taboo that’s around menstruation… it’s definitely a case of education, it should be talked about a lot more from a younger age.”

With sanitary products bafflingly regarded as a ‘luxury, non-essential item’ in the UK, this research is vital in proving how big of a problem period poverty is right now, and will hopefully lead to the removal of draconian stigmas surrounding women’s bodies.

Find out how you can support the #FreePeriods campaign here.