This has a huge impact on female education; it's estimated that 10% of girls in Africa will miss school when they have their periods, which can lead to them dropping out altogether. Action Aid have identified this completely unnecessary barrier to them receiving an education and are working to establish education and 'safe rooms' in schools, which provide facilities and sanitary products so they can get on with their day (and life) without worry. (You can find out more and donate here.) But what's increasingly worrying is that this is no longer a problem just resigned to developing countries - it's something that is preventing girls in the UK from receiving an effective education too.
A couple of weeks ago a story came to light that left me shaking my head in pure frustration. The Guardian reported that girls from low income families were missing vital days of school because they were forced to stay at home during their periods; since then teachers have come forward to say they have bought pupils sanitary products to keep them from sellotaping socks to the inside of their underwear, or stuffing themselves with tissue paper. With an increasing number of families relying on food banks to survive, it's no surprise that this is the impact in turn: young women either don't have funds to buy their own sanitary products, or they're simply choosing to not further burden their parents by asking for something they know they can't afford.
Hayley Smith, founder of Flow Aid, told The Guardian: "The cost of sanitary products are just too much for some girls and their families, and it’s leading to missing school and it’s putting their health at risk. It’s absolutely despicable in the 21st Century that girls are being forced to comprise their education simply because an absolute necessity is unavailable and not affordable." Popping a box or two of tampons into my shopping basket is done without even a second thought, so it's truly shocking to me that hundreds (if not thousands) of girls in the UK are suffering needlessly because of such a simple lack of feminine hygiene products. Although there are charities set up to help the homeless and those in war-torn countries, there's no way of young women within our schools from getting such a necessity.
Periods are bad enough as an adult (the discomfort, the lethargy, the back pain, the nausea) but as a teenager they're absolutely amplified. I can remember being incredibly conscious of whether or not people around me knew I was on my period (Can they see? Can they smell?) and feeling like every time I stood up from a lesson there was going to be a pile of blood I'd need to somehow conceal (there never was.) Can you imagine how much worse that would be if you weren't equipped with a simple towel or tampon?
Thanksfully Bodyform has made a commitment to donate 200,000 packs of sanitary products by 2020, helping thousands of girls get access to free period protection. This builds upon the £1million worth of products already donated over the last six years, which is by no means a solution but definitely a start. Marketing Director for Bodyform, Nicola Coronado, said: "These latest reports are in line with research from our own Hygiene Matters report which found 40% of UK girls have felt that their period has kept them from leading a full and active life at school. As a manufacturer of these essential products, we feel incredibly moved by this and we see this commitment as the first step in helping to combat these issues. Alongside campaigns such as The Homeless Period, we can overcome the taboo of talking about menstruation while ensuring sanitary products are reaching those most in need." I applaud this wholeheartedly and hope that other brands will follow suit.
So as a singular person, what can you do to make a real difference and help to alleviate some of the embarrassment young women across the UK (and the rest of the world) are suffering? I've found five charities that are trying to make a real difference, all of which you can donate funds or products to which will be passed on to those in need.
The Homeless Period: A charity set up to distribute essential sanitary products to the homeless, via local shelters and food banks. You can donate to one of their existing partners, or let them know about your own local cause.
Bloody Good Period: They period supplies and toiletries for asylum seekers, refugees and those who can't afford them. What's super easy is that you can order via Amazon and deliver direct to them, so it's super simple to help.
Flow Aid: Small but powerful, Flow Aid has been set up to source and distribute essential supplies to the homeless - and now is becoming increasingly involved in providing them to young women too.
Action Aid: Helping to solve the lack of facilities in Africa, you can donate to Action Aid either as a one-off or monthly contribution. The money goes towards providing young girls with clean underwear, sanitary protection, education and in-school facilities.
The Trussell Trust: A 400-strong network of foodbanks that provides a minimum of three days emergency food and support to people experiencing crisis in the UK. You can find the location of your local food bank and directly donate much needed sanitary products.
Today I'm off to buy as many tampons and towels as I can carry and I'm going to be delivering them to my local shelters, food banks and charities. I'm fortunate enough to have never been without such a basic necessity, but I also know how awkward and horrible it can be when you're caught short; I can't imagine that being your reality every day of your period, indefinitely. I urge you to do what you can to also help young women in need, donating funds or supplies to either the above charities or your own local food banks; this isn't an issue that can be solved overnight, but a little effort can make a really big difference to girls that are made to feel embarrassed of something that's part and parcel of being a woman.
(If you want to read more about period poverty in the UK, Adrienne from The Sunday Girl has got a great post on the issue here too.)
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