Fighting period poverty’s ‘toxic trio’
When we launched our Menstrual Manifesto, we made six calls for change.
They’re all based on our research with young people in England and Northern Ireland, which was truly eye opening.
Amongst the findings, we discovered the complexity of period poverty and how it’s underpinned by a ‘toxic trio’ of issues.
What also became clear is that each of these issues must be addressed if girls and other menstruators are to be able to manage their periods safely, healthily and effectively – as they should expect to be able to do in the 21st century.
Period poverty: the ‘toxic trio’
The ‘toxic trio’ of period poverty, revealed by our research, is made up of:
- The cost of sanitary products: girls in the UK are struggling to cover the cost of their periods every month – one in ten have found themselves unable to afford sanitary products. And as media stories show, some girls are having to go without products at all, because they simply can’t afford them.
- A lack of education about periods: girls aren’t being taught how their bodies work. As a result, few are aware what a healthy and an unhealthy period are like, and very few of the young people we talked to could name more than the top two (disposable) sanitary product options.
- Shame, stigma and taboo: Girls are being told there’s something wrong with their bodies when they have their period. This normal, healthy process is being treated like it's something to be ashamed of.
What we’ve also heard from young people is that, even when they do ask for help or education, the message they receive back is: ‘don’t talk about it’.
The result? The problem gets silenced.
How do you solve a problem like period poverty?
Many of the issues facing girls and other menstruators in the UK today are also challenges facing young people around the world.
As an international development charity, we know from experience that handing out sanitary products might help today, but it won’t fix the problem tomorrow. And while we have to address the cost of sanitary products, we also have to tackle the root problems of stigma, taboo and a lack of education for young people.
So, what are we doing about it?
We’re incredibly excited to be working in partnership with Brook, the young person’s sexual health and wellbeing advice service, on a brand new project committed to ending period poverty, with support from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Tampon Tax fund.
As part of the ‘Let’s Talk. Period.’ project, Plan International UK will build on the networks created at the UK’s first Period Poverty Summit, which we held in 2017.
Working together, we'll put the insight, expertise and research we’ve gathered into practice, creating a community of educators, practitioners and activists to support learning, share best practice with grassroots organisations and create sustainable change – to transform young people’s experiences of their periods.
The project will also include piloting a P-card scheme (based on the existing and successful C-Card scheme that distributes condoms locally) making period products, including sustainable options, available to those in need, and providing menstruation education designed to enable girls and other menstruators to manage their periods confidently and without shame.
It's a truly exciting initiative, and I can’t wait to update you on where the project takes us next.
Follow Lucy Russell on Twitter @totorointhetree
This article was updated on 22 February 2019
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