Tackling Period Poverty in Schools

Period Poverty Schools In our latest team blog, Poverty Proofing expert Bethany Reeve uses her first-hand experience of talking to young people about period poverty in school to explore the issue and shares what staff can do to help combat it.

What is ‘period poverty’?

Period poverty is when an individual lacks the financial means to access sanitary products, sanitation facilities and adequate education surrounding periods. Period poverty is believed to affect 1 in 3 girls at some point in their lifetime. With the cost-of-living crisis and poverty levels on the rise since the COVID-19 pandemic, girls living in the North East of England are suffering disproportionately from period poverty, and it is expected in the coming years, period poverty will be on the rise due to the current financial climate. On average, a girl will start their period between ages twelve to thirteen, however, girls can start their periods as early as eight years old, making it vital to educate and discuss periods within both primary and secondary schools. A recent survey conducted by Water Aid uncovered the horrifying statistics that 26% of girls’ wear period products longer than they should, posing a huge health risk and 15% have taken time off school or work due to their period.

The Red Box Project

Founded in 2017, the Red Box Project was set up by three friends who wanted to provide young girls with sanitary supplies in their local area. After carrying out research surrounding period poverty in England they decided to take action aiming to ensure there were always period products available for girls in schools within their local area. Feedback received from the teachers and school staff in these schools suggested this was a nationwide issue. This then drove the founders of the Red Box Project as well as hundreds of volunteers both in the UK and overseas to campaign and launch a legal challenge against the Government. This fight for menstrual equality saw the change in Government policy in early 2020 with the government now providing menstrual products in all schools and colleges across the country.

Why it matters

14% of girls admitted they didn’t know what was happening to their body when they began their period. This can be a terrifying time for a young girl if they are not educated on what is happening to their body.

It is common for girls to feel embarrassed about their period, not only for young girls but women as well. Although periods are experienced by approximately 50% of the population the subject of them is still extremely taboo. Many schools have policies in place which involve the individual asking a teacher for sanitary products or using a code word to alert the teacher they need sanitary support. However, research has found approximately 78% of girls don’t feel comfortable speaking to their teacher about their period.

For these girls having to go to a teacher may cause avoidable stress and upset at an already sensitive time for them. For this reason, it is important that girls can access sanitary provision without having to directly address a teacher or member of staff. An alternative system which is being adopted by many schools is known as the ‘red box’ system. This entails a member of staff keeping a fully stocked box of period products in the bathroom at all times. It is vital that this box contains a variety of absorbency levels and both pads and tampons to make these provisions accessible to all. Ensure all girls are aware of the supplies and monitor the box regularly to ensure supplies are never running low.

At Children North East, during our Poverty Proofing© The School Day audits, pupil support around periods and access to sanitary provisions is investigated. We see a range of different support in place for girls, from excellent practice like the Red Box system to schools where girls are unaware of not only what the systems are in school but what the word period or sanitary protection means. We know that there are also cases of pupils taking products home for other family members to use. Being able to bring this to school attention is vital and shows that more awareness of this topic can bring better practice, improving the lives and the opportunities for young women.

Top tips for combating period poverty

  • Make products easily and discretely accessible.
  • Ensure there is a range of products for different needs.
  • Consider what provision can be made for during holidays.
  • Include the pupils in coming up with a system that will work for them.
  • Don’t make accessibility dependent on speaking to an adult at school.
  • Be vigilant for stigma or bullying relating to use of school-provided products.
  • Avoid distributing products in busy areas of the school.
  • Consider if how products are accessed impacts other parts of the school day, like lunchtime.