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Photo of a girl with items from her sanitary pad kit

Putting an end to period taboos

Meet the girls challenging the myths about menstrual health

Periods. For millions of people everywhere, they’re simply a part of life. But around the world, including here in the UK, they continue to be surrounded by shame, stigma and taboo. It’s affecting the way girls live their lives and for many, the pandemic has made things even harder. That’s why we’re working with girls to end period poverty and challenge shame and stigma.

Girls are growing up with all kinds of obstacles to managing their periods, from living without access to clean water and decent toilets to period poverty, which prevents them buying the products they need. In some countries, girls are being banished from their homes or told they can’t go to school when they have their period. These barriers are having a profound impact on girls' education, their health and their wellbeing.

As part of our coronavirus response we’re reaching girls with dignity kits, so they can manage their periods the way they choose. Through child sponsorship and our global programmes, we’re building girl-friendly toilets in schools and communities. And with your amazing support, we’ve successfully campaigned for a period emoji and a change to the Relationships and Sex Education curriculum in the UK, to make sure girls have the knowledge they need about healthy periods.

‘It’s not anything to hide’

Shame and stigma can have a devastating impact on the way girls feel about themselves, and their bodies, when they get their period. But girls and young women like Faridah are ready to change things – now and for future generations.

The cost of periods globally

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In Colombia

a box of eight tampons costs the same as six bus rides
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In Guatemala

a pack of 10 sanitary pads costs the same as three pounds of beans, lasting a family of four for five days
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In Bangladesh

a pack of sanitary pads costs the same as two notebooks
Photo of a girl in a white tshirt
“In the towns, only girls who can afford sanitary pads can go to school and pursue their education. The rest have no such opportunity. They stay at home." – Worke, 14, Ethiopia

Going without period products

Around the world, at least 500 million girls and women don’t have the essentials they need to manage their period, whether that’s period products or access to a clean toilet. And in places where period products are seen as luxury items, girls and women will often go without, so their families don’t have to cut back on other essential items such as food or school supplies.

For many, coronavirus has also made period products even less affordable. The pandemic has hit livelihoods and household finances while driving up the cost of basic products, through shortages and disrupted supply chains.

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“Making reusable sanitary pads has helped improve many girls’ menstrual hygiene,” says Elinette, 19, in Zimbabwe

‘We couldn’t afford sanitary pads’

“During the pandemic most of us initially failed to get access to sexual and reproductive health services. We couldn’t afford to buy disposable sanitary pads,” says Elinette, 19.

She lives in Zimbabwe, where period poverty has surged during the pandemic, with period products becoming more expensive or harder to get hold of.

In response, we’ve developed a programme that teaches girls how to make reusable sanitary pads, which they can use themselves, give to their family and friends, or sell to earn additional income.

Photo of a girl holding period products
Yalen, 18, in Indonesia. Our dignity kits include sanitary pads, as well as other essential items.

‘These products are a necessity’

In Yalen’s community in Indonesia, the pandemic has made it even harder for people to provide food for their families. And as schools and markets closed, girls faced a new challenge: a shortage of sanitary supplies.

“Normally people think of food or clothing, but menstrual hygiene products are too often neglected,” Yalen explains. That’s why, as part of our coronavirus response, we’ve been distributing dignity kits containing essential items including soap, toothpaste and sanitary pads.

“I do not have the money to buy pads or soap, so I have to rely on my mother,” Yalen says. “These products are a necessity for girls like me.”

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BREAKING THE BARRIERS IN THE UK

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36% of UK girls have struggled to afford or access period products during the pandemic

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49% of UK girlshave missed an entire day of school because of their period

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Almost 70%of UK girls aren’t allowed to go to the toilet during school lesson times

Aoife, 19, from London
“I’ve had the words, ‘Dirty! It’s disgusting.’ It’s a horrible way for a girl to feel when she’s on her period." - Aoife, 19, London

Period poverty: tackling the ‘toxic trio’

Our research has revealed a toxic trio of period poverty in the UK: the cost of sanitary products, a lack of education about periods, and shame, stigma and taboo.

Now, coronavirus has made the situation even more challenging. More than a third of UK girls have struggled to afford or access period products during the pandemic. That's equivalent to over one million girls in the UK and an increase of a fifth compared to last year.

Worryingly, half of these girls didn’t have enough money to buy period products at all at some point over the past year – while others had to cut back on essential items including food, soap and toothpaste to be able to afford them.

Jessica, 17, from the UK

A CULTURE OF SHAME AND SILENCE

“I do feel like there’s a stigma around the topic of periods. If people spoke about periods more without the stigma, it could help a lot of people.” - Jess, 17, UK

Our first-of-its-kind report, Break the Barriers, explores UK girls’ experiences of having their period. It reveals a culture of shame and silence has turned periods into a hidden public health issue – putting girls' physical, sexual and mental health at risk.

An image of our blood drop period emoji

Campaign success for our period emoji!

In 2017, we ran a survey – and discovered just how much shame and stigma still impact girls’ and women’s experiences of having their period. 

It was the starting point for our period emoji campaign and, thanks to your incredible support, our blood drop design, developed in partnership with NHS Blood, is now appearing on phones everywhere. 

That means people will be able to talk about periods using one of the fastest growing global languages, helping to tackle the taboos still associated with getting your period around the world.

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