Sticking it to period shame on International day of the girl

Today, 11th of October represents a day for International Day of the Girl. As mothers, we all went through the experience of having our periods. Recent survey shows that 48% of girls in the U.K. are growing up feeling ashamed of their periods – and missing out on school or activities as a result. In other countries the numbers are worse.

Almost half of girls aged 14-21 are embarrassed by their periods

The findings, based on a survey commissioned by girls’ rights charity Plan International UK, expose the impact stigmas, shame and silence around periods is having on the lives of teenage girls in the UK.

The survey, in which 1000 girls aged 14-21 were asked about their experiences of menstruation, finds that the taboos around periods can, and do, have serious consequences, with one in seven (14 per cent) girls admitting that they did not know what was happening when they started their period and more than a quarter (26 per cent) reporting that they did not know what to do when they started their period.

Of those surveyed:

·      Only one in five (22%) girls feel comfortable discussing their period with their teacher

·      Less than a quarter (24%) of girls feel comfortable discussing their period with their male friends

·      Under a third (29%) of girls feel comfortable discussing their period with their fathers

·      Four fifths (82 per cent) of girls admitted they have hidden or concealed their sanitary products

·      Almost three quarters (71%) of girls admitted that they have felt embarrassed buying sanitary products

More than half (59 per cent) of girls revealed that they had received negative remarks about their perceived behaviour and mood whilst on their period and one in ten had been asked not to talk about their periods front of their mother (12 per cent) or father (11 per cent).

Larissa is 19 and is at university in Coventry, she said: “There’s a huge societal taboo around talking about periods and a lot of girls – myself included – internalise the message that periods are gross and shouldn’t be talked about even when we know it’s an entirely natural thing.

“I used to always make up excuses to avoid telling people I was on my period. I’d make up this intricate story about having a weak bladder to explain why I was going to the toilet frequently. I knew it was ridiculous but I just found it so awkward to say the words “I’m on my period”.

Tanya Barron, Plan International’s Chief Executive said “Girls like Larissa are telling us that they are embarrassed, confused and ashamed about periods, a completely natural biological process which happens to half the global population.”

“As a society we obsessively euphemise, belittle and silence menstruation; we need to address the impact this is having on girls. 

“As a global girls’ rights charity we know that pervading cultural taboos and lack of education around periods can have a damaging impact on the lives of girls both here in the UK and across the world, exposing them to discrimination and preventing them from fulfilling their potential.”

The research also finds that girls are feeling the need to make up excuses for when their period has an impact on their day-to-day life, with the charity concerned that entrenched stigmas, including in schools, are behind this.

·      49 per cent of girls have missed an entire day of school because of their period, of which 59 per cent have made up a lie or an alternate excuse

·      64 per cent of girls have missed a PE or sport because of their period, of which 52 per cent of girls have made up a lie or excuse

·      68 per cent of girls admits they feel less able to pay attention at school/college and work and more than half (52 per cent) have made up a lie or excuse

Ms Barron added “For many women and girls in the UK, these statistics will not shock or surprise, and that in itself is concerning.

“Our research suggests that in schools in particular, the institutional support is not there. There’s a lack of open discussion and a problem with access to toilet facilities, which forces girls to withdraw from certain activities and feel compelled to lie about why.

“Girls are not only dealing with the pain and discomfort that comes with periods, but the institutionalised stigma too; a girl might miss school because she’s worried that if her period comes, she won’t be allowed access to the toilet.

Plan International UK is calling for the new Relationships and Sex Education  curriculum – currently under consultation and due to be rolled out in September 2019- to incorporate lessons which teach girls and boys, together, about the physical, personal and social aspects of menstruation.

“When girls are too embarrassed to ask to go to the toilet during a lesson because of their period, we have a problem that needs to be seen as structural, not individual,” added Ms Barron. “The new curriculum presents an opportunity, both through classes and in the wider school environment, to bust the taboos that are holding girls back.

“We need to encourage open discussion and better equip girls with tools and information to manage their periods effectively, without shame or embarrassment.”

This week, to mark International Day of the Girl, Plan International UK will launch the #weallbleed campaign to remind the nation that periods and menstruation are a normal part of everyday life.

For the campaign, the charity has created special ‘Plaster Pads’ – miniature sanitary pads that are worn like plasters for all the world to see – as a thought-provoking prompt to make people consider why there’s no shame in bleeding.

Plan International UK will be distributing boxes of Plaster Pads to celebrities and influencers, encouraging them to puts pads where plasters go and share on social media. The Plaster Pads will be printed with slogans that highlight the need to remove the stigma around blood; after all, blood is blood.

Every element of the campaign will be supported with the #weallbleed hashtag, designed to highlight this simple fact and to show that periods are nothing to be ashamed of. 

To find out more about Plan International UK’s #weallbleed campaign, visit www.plan-uk.org/periods