Financial Capability week begins on 12th November and this year it is time to address the issue of period poverty, focusing on how teenage girls are actively raising awareness of the topic. According to Plan International UK, a dedicated children’s charity, one in every ten teenage girls will have experienced the problem of not being able to afford sanitary products. This issue has been picked up by many campaigners who are pushing to eradicate the financial barriers between girls and menstruation. So, let’s talk about exactly why young girls need to be growing up in a world free of period poverty.

What is Period Poverty?

Period poverty refers to the inability to afford sanitary products, but it can also relate to a lack of understanding of menstruation. Governments have come under fire for matters such as the tampon tax, which is thought to contribute to period poverty. Tampon tax refers to the profits from the VAT charge of 5% applied to sanitary products and while this might be significantly less than the standard 20% VAT which applies to a whole host of other products, there is still dispute over whether we should be paying tax duties on these products at all. A couple of retailers have swallowed the tax and a Tampon Tax Fund has been set up to support certain women’s charities, but that hasn’t changed the fact that many girls are growing up in a climate where they can’t afford these essential items.

How does Period Poverty affect Young Women?

On average, girls get the signs of their first period at around twelve years old, but periods can start for girls as young as eight. Not all young girls are fortunate enough to be able to add sanitary products onto their parents’ weekly shop and this has left many without access to sanitary items. Experiencing symptoms and having no access to period products means that many girls could be going through period poverty during the peak years of their education and development. The average schoolgirl is found to take three days off each term due to period related issues and 1,000 girls said that period poverty affected their academic performance. There needs to be a solution to remedy this, allowing girls to focus on their education.

How Are Authorities Addressing Period Poverty?

In April 2019, the UK Government’s Department for Education announced its commitment to providing free sanitary products across England’s primary schools by early 2020. The Children and Families Minister Zadhim Zahawi covered some of the key concerns for period poverty campaigners, outlining the move as a step towards enabling girls to meet their full potential, while also leading happy, healthy lives. The classroom is one of the key places to tackle period poverty and in February the UK government announced that it intends to implement classes on menstrual health by 2020, which is certainly a step in the right direction when it comes to educating young girls about their periods.

Bringing Period Poverty into The Classroom

There’s often a lot of pressure placed on parents to teach their daughters about periods but if they don’t know, they can’t share so we should be more proactive in talking about menstruation in the classroom. As we’ve already mentioned, the government is taking the right steps towards bringing periods into the classroom and by educating girls at a young age, the school system can help to tackle period poverty at its very origin. There’s certainly a stigma around menstruation and by leveling the playing field early on, we can inform young girls about what to expect and that it is totally natural. Plan International UK found that some of the most reoccurring reasons cited by girls missing school lessons, due to period related issues, were embarrassment and anxiety about the situation. This demonstrates the need for period education and schools should be striving to tackle this and make classrooms a safe space for all youngsters.

Thanks to various widespread social media movements, there is already a growing understanding of period poverty amongst teenagers and young girls. PHS Group carried out a survey in which a third of participants said that either they or someone they knew had been affected by period poverty. Teen activist Amika George began the #FreePeriods movement, and the nineteen-year-old is amplifying the message that no young girl should have to miss out on learning because they can’t afford sanitary products. She has joined forces with various other campaigns such as the Pink Protest and the Red Box Project to reiterate the importance of achieving period equality for all girls.

As women, we have a duty to share and support each other through an experience that we all have in common, so let’s tackle period poverty and raise a generation of girls who have ready access to essential sanitary products and are empowered by their bodies, not held back by them.