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40% of girls have used toilet roll because they’ve struggled to afford sanitary wear, survey reveals

40% of girls have used toilet roll because they’ve struggled to afford sanitary wear, survey reveals

Two fifths of girls have had to rely on using toilet roll at some point to manage their period because they have struggled to afford sanitary products, a survey by girls’ rights charity Plan International UK has revealed.

Overall, out of 1004 14-21 year old * girls surveyed, 42 per cent of those who had started their period said they have been forced to use makeshift sanitary wear because they have struggled to buy products. Alarmingly, seven per cent of girls also said they had used socks, other fabric, newspaper or paper in replacement of sanitary products to manage their period.

The survey comes as Plan International UK launches a first-of-its-kind report which looks at the stigma and taboo menstruating girls face in the UK, along with what education they receive and problems they have affording sanitary products. In the report, the charity argues that menstruation is a national public health challenge and that society is currently failing girls and others who menstruate.

To try to combat period poverty, the charity is calling for the introduction of a card scheme which provides not only free sanitary products to young people but also training and advice to tackle the lack of education and stigma that still exists around periods. The charity suggests councils could pilot the ‘P-card’ scheme based on the current ‘C-card’ scheme which provides free condoms and sexual health advice to those aged 13-24 years old.

The survey also showed that the reality of not being able to afford sanitary products is having serious consequences for many girls. Of those surveyed, more than a quarter of girls (27 per cent) said they had used a sanitary product for longer than its intended use because they could not afford to use a fresh one. Out of those girls who have overused a product, 48 per cent said they thought it had impacted their health including:

  • Nearly a third (31 per cent) saying they believe they experienced thrush
  • One in five (20 per cent) saying they believe they contracted a urinary tract infection (UTI)

Tanya Barron, Chief Executive of Plan International UK, said, “Sadly, our research shows that the situation for those who menstruate in the UK is not a positive one. We have spoken to girls across the country, along with experts in health and education, who describe a culture of taboo where periods are expected to be discreet, clean and hidden away.

"Period poverty is a challenge facing many girls in the UK, and it’s devastating to hear that some girls are suffering from health conditions because they can’t afford to properly manage their periods.

“Proposals for schools to give free products to girls struggling with the cost of managing their period can certainly play a role, but what’s really needed is a response to period poverty that’s more nuanced. Handing out free products will only solve part of a very complex problem, what’s needed alongside this is education and training for girls, schools and parents to help tackle the stigma and embarrassment around periods as well as the cost – after all this is the root cause of the problem.”

The proposed new scheme is one part of a Menstrual Manifesto that the charity says could overhaul society’s approach to periods. Other recommendations include:

  • Better, more regular education about menstruation, that is not just limited to biology but includes the physical, emotional, social and practical aspects, is required. The new Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) curriculum being introduced in September 2019, provides an opportunity to improve the guidelines and in turn help to end the stigma.
  • School policies should not restrict girls from accessing the toilets when they’re on their period. This is key to tackling anxiety and stop girls worrying about leaking. School toilets should also have at least one toilet with a sink in the cubicle, and somewhere for girls to dispose of their menstrual products.
  • Step-by-step online resources for parents is vital so that they can comfortably speak to their children about menstruation.
  • A cross-government working group should be set up on menstrual health management, which would include investment in supporting research and pilot projects helping to tackle the stigma of periods.
  • Guidelines should be developed by the Advertising Standards Authority to ensure a positive and accurate portrayal of menstruation in the media. One example is where advertising campaigns show period blood as a blue liquid, leading young girls to believe this is normal.

Read the report Break the Barriers: Girls’ experiences of menstruation in the UK.