Periods, Poverty and School

Yesterday, the BBC published an article regarding girls in the UK missing school as they are unable to afford sanitary pads or tampons. Whilst shocking, it is hardly surprising. Homeless charities and food banks have been appealing for years for people to donate sanitary items to them and recently this need was highlighted in a scene in the film “I, Daniel Blake” where the young mum shoplifts sanitary towels and deodorant whilst buying some food shopping. This isn’t quite as in depth, and contains more personal/anecdotal information than my last couple of posts but this has struck a serious cord with me and the result is this blog post.

I’ve only done a quick search but cannot find any research which points at the economic and social cost of missing school (and/ or work) due to not being able to afford sanitary towels (if anyone can find anything UK based then please to let me know). However, a report from the USA in 2014 found that improving attendance is an essential strategy for reducing achievement gaps and that those missing 3 or more days of school in the month prior to a test scored  more than a full grade level lower than their counterparts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress achievement scale. Given the average female has a period every 28 days, lasting between 3 and 7 days, it’s easy to see how missing school due to not being able to afford protection could be extremely detrimental to education; further exacerbating existing inequalities due to poverty.

Now some of you may think that this isn’t a big deal and folk should just get on with it without protection – “just shove some loo roll in your pants”, “wear black trousers” or “just buy a moon cup then you don’t need to buy stuff each month” are some of the things I’ve seen and heard in relation to this.

(WARNING: what comes next may be considered too much information for some but I think it’s important that we understand the reality.)

  • Shoving loo roll in your knickers is generally the short term solution when you’ve been caught by surprise by a period; when you’re out and don’t have anything in your handbag. It feels gross, it doesn’t work very well (it rolls up or to one side and it doesn’t stop you from leaking for very long) and it just isn’t a long term solution.
  • Black trousers doesn’t stop you bleeding through onto seats or it dribbling down your leg. For anyone to think it’s reasonable for a young woman, or any woman, to have to deal with that if it’s not her choice (some folk do like free bleeding)is baffling to me and I’m not sure how many ways I can say you’re wrong. As a 21 year old I was absolutely mortified when I had bled onto a seat (told you TMI, you were warned!) and I can’t imagine how 13 year old I would’ve reacted. Particularly if it had been at school surrounded by my peers – 25 year old me is getting palpitations considering it.
  • Thirdly, the moon cup. I entirely agree that long term it’s cheaper than buying sanitary towels/tampons and arguably better for the environment too but by suggesting this you fail to understand poverty. These things cost around £15 and upwards from what I can find and if you cannot afford the £2.00+ for a pack of sanitary pads (and one pack may or may not last you the duration of your period) then £15 is out of the question.  This doesn’t even consider whether a person feels comfortable with the insertion etc which is a personal choice and differs from person to person.

I saw this article and it saddened me but I wasn’t surprised.  I was saddened because I know how I’ve felt when I’ve been caught without anything in my house or in my bag. I can’t imagine how these girls must feel knowing that they don’t just have to make it to shops or to their house before they’ll feel comfortable again. That it’s going to be days before they’re comfortable and they’re going to have to catch up on work when they do go back. I think this BBC article has raised that there is a fairly urgent need for research into the cost (economic, personal and social) of this on people and in the meantime, if you’re in a position to do so, why not see if your local school/youth club/food bank would take a donation? We hand out free condoms but it’s rare to be able to access sanitary products without cost.  That we are in this position makes me sad, it also makes me incredibly angry.  Young girls are losing out on their education, not because of the associated pain or symptoms of this natural process, but simply as they cannot afford to control it in a way which makes them feel comfortable, that’s incredibly unjust and further perpetuates the inequalities of living in poverty.


2 thoughts on “Periods, Poverty and School

  1. heidirgardner says:

    Totally agree with you! It frustrates me enough that there’s a tax on sanitary products, but I feel like if we’re to be taxed on them then these types of products could at least be supplied free of charge at different places – clinics, school nurses etc. Since seeing ‘I, Daniel Blake’ I always put sanitary products in donations for food banks, it’s something people just don’t think of and I think that film has had such a brilliant impact.


    • thehealthresearchinggraduate says:

      That was a good a good film. It necessarily skipped over some details but overall I think it painted a fair, if bleak, picture. It’s something small we can do but realistically these should be available and this is a barrier to education which a) shouldn’t exist and b) is relatively easy in theory to prevent.


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