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Menstrual Manifesto needed

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Plan UK, stigma, periods, toilet access, Menstrual ManifestoSteps need to be taken to improve young people’s experiences of having their period.

The children’s charity Plan UK’s latest research shows that, around the world, girls’ experiences at school are contributing to a culture of embarrassment that they have to face, every month, when they get their period.

They are having to ask their teachers if they can go to the toilet, in front of their whole class, and face shame and stigma – and that happens right here in the UK too.

Often, they are being told they can’t leave the room – even if they explain that they have to go because they have their period.

And when they can get to the toilet, they might well be missing the essentials they need to manage their period properly.

Plan UK’s latest research and the resulting report, Break the Barriers: Girl’s Experiences of Menstruation in the UK, has shown that negative talk about periods are damaging girls’ self-esteem and sense of self-worth, putting their physical health at risk and contributing to period poverty.

14 per cent of girls in the UK didn’t know what was happening when they started their period.

40 per cent of girls in the UK have used toilet roll because they have struggled to afford sanitary wear.

48 per cent of girls said they believe overusing a sanitary product because they couldn’t afford a fresh one had impacted their health.

Almost 70 per cent of girls were not allowed to go to the toilet during school lesson times.

16 per cent of girls have missed school because they were on their period and worried they wouldn’t be allowed to use the toilet.

And almost two thirds of girls were worried about leaking in class when they have their period.

That is why Plan UK have launched a Menstrual Manifesto and identified the key steps they consider need to be taken to end period taboos and improve young people’s experiences of having their period – including at school.

Plan UK is calling for a Menstrual Manifesto, which includes:

1 – A commitment to listening to girls and other menstruators

Girls are the experts in their own lives. We need to ask them what they want to learn about periods – and listen to their replies. When it comes to period poverty, the voices of those experiencing it need to be front and centre.

2 – A change in the conversation about periods

We all have a responsibility, especially senior leaders and public figures, to tackle the shame and stigma that surround periods, until they become an everyday subject for everyone.

3 – Real world education

All primary and secondary school pupils in the UK need to learn about periods. This must include integrated classes for girls and boys, as well as separate classes that look not just at the biological but also the physical, emotional, social and practical aspects of periods.

Every school in the UK must provide girls with free access to toilets, which are properly equipped with bins and private washing facilities.

One in ten girls in the UK have been asked not to talk about their period in front of their mother or father, so online resources for parents need to be developed, so they feel comfortable talking to their children about periods.

4 – An end to period poverty

Plan UK is calling on local authorities to pilot a P-card scheme. Based on the popular C-card scheme for contraception, it would enable girls in need to access education about periods and a variety of sanitary products.

5 – Companies acting as part of the solution

Companies selling sanitary items must agree to a set of principles around their school engagement.

This should include ensuring the speakers they provide are trained, and can educate young people about the biological, social and practical aspects of periods.

They should provide information about all available menstrual products, both disposable and reusable, and make sure they include accurate information about the environmental impact of menstrual products.

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) also needs to develop guidelines to ensure the accurate – and positive – portrayal of periods.

6 – Investment in research

A cross-government working group should be set up on menstrual health management, focusing on research and pilot projects.

Young people’s wellbeing, their education and their success at school are at stake, and clearly things have to change.

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