One in five UK girls teased or bullied because of their period, new survey finds
Girls across the UK are struggling with verbal abuse, bullying and a feeling of shame around their periods, with many of those affected suffering in silence, according to a new survey by Plan International UK released to coincide with Menstrual Hygiene Day 2019. This follows the UK Government’s announcement that Plan International UK will co-chair its new period poverty taskforce.
The poll of 1,000 UK girls aged 14 – 21 reveals that one in five (20 per cent) have experienced teasing or bullying around their periods, with only half (49 per cent) telling anyone about it. Two thirds (67 per cent) of teasing and bullying takes place in school, while 1 in 10 girls (9 per cent) say it is happening to them online.
Overall, nearly six in ten (57 per cent) have experienced negative comments of some kind connected with their period, including:
- Comments about being dirty or disgusting (10 per cent)
- Comments making them feel ashamed or uncomfortable (14 per cent)
- Comments about their perceived mood or behaviour (36 per cent)
- Comments about leaking (18 per cent)
- Comments or teasing around sanitary wear (15 per cent)
In addition to impacting on girls’ confidence and self-esteem, period stigma can have a direct impact on their schooling. Two thirds of girls (66 per cent) report missing a part day or full day of school because of their period, with commonly cited reasons including concerns about leaking (39 per cent), anxiety about their period (28 per cent) and embarrassment (19 per cent). 40 per cent of those who had missed school report struggling to catch up on school work as a result.
Atlanta, aged 17 from Manchester, experienced period stigma in school:
“I’ve heard periods called awful, disgusting. I’ve been told to ‘get over it’. When my friends and I would try to discuss periods, boys would tell us to be quiet. One boy even called me “dirty” and refused to sit next to me in class after he overheard me talking about my period privately to a teacher. I was so embarrassed that I went home for the rest of the day.
“We need to be teaching girls and boys about periods. They need to know that they’re a normal thing and not something dirty or disgusting.”
These negative feelings around periods are entrenched in girls from when they first start their periods; nearly half of girls (49 per cent) say they felt anxious when they first started; one third felt embarrassed (35 per cent) while three in ten (30 per cent) report feeling frightened.
As part of its efforts to smash the stigma and make periods an everyday subject, Plan International UK is hosting a public event for Menstrual Hygiene Day on London’s South Bank. Throughout the day, members of the public will compete head-to-head on stationary bicycles to finish the ‘menstrual cycle’ course, with visual displays designed to raise awareness and encourage conversation.
Tanya Barron, Chief Executive at Plan International UK, said: “Girls across the UK are facing unacceptable stigma and shame linked to their periods, and this survey shows that, too often, this takes the form of verbal abuse and bullying.
“Not only is this damaging girls’ confidence and self-esteem, it’s also having an often-overlooked impact on their education. Girls tell us they are missing out on school because of their period and struggling to catch up on schoolwork as a result. We can’t allow this to continue.
“If girls around the world – including here in the UK – are to reach their full potential then we must put an end to the stigma and taboo around periods, and the best way to do that is through education and open conversations that normalise periods and put an end to the silence.”