A recent survey by the charity Plan International UK has revealed that there is still a considerable taboo amongst young people, of both sexes, regarding periods and feminine hygiene. This follows a report earlier in the year that highlighted how poverty in some areas of the UK is causing some girls to go without sanitary protection, and that a lack of communication and openness around this subject is causing these girls to suffer in silence. Even in 21st century Britain, it seems there is still considerable stigma attached to feminine hygiene that needs to be addressed.
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Feminine Hygiene in Education
Despite being a completely natural part of a female’s development, it appears society as a whole are not comfortable with discussing menstruation or any issues surrounding it. Whether through embarrassment, or just not wanting to discuss personal issues, it seems many do not feel comfortable broaching the subject of feminine hygiene and the use of sanitary protection.
Results from the Plan International UK survey suggest that much of this stems from childhood and a lack of education around this subject. The survey, which questioned 1,000 girls between the ages of 14 and 21, found that almost half (48%) were embarrassed to discuss their periods. Perhaps more surprisingly, not to mention worrying, is the fact that 26% of those surveyed admit to not knowing what to do when they started their period. This lack of knowledge clearly points to a lack of education around this subject, although blame can’t purely be laid at the door of the education system. Such education can also come from the home, but again, this relies on an openness and acceptance in society as a whole, that is clearly lacking currently.
Likewise, the sharing of such information and knowledge also needs to extend beyond just girls. The survey highlighted how 24% of girls didn’t feel comfortable discussing their periods with their male friends and Kerry Smith, head of girls’ rights at Plan International UK suggests that both girls and boys aren’t being told enough about periods. If knowledge about feminine hygiene is improved amongst both sexes, and at an early age, we stand a much better chance, as a society, of greater acceptance and understanding of issues arising from this perfectly natural biological process.
One such issue was highlighted earlier this year by the revelation that girls from low-income families were unable to afford sanitary protection and this was resulting in many of them playing truant during their periods. The issue only came to light when a police officer working at a school in Leeds discovered the reason for a large number of absentees. Once again, due to the stigma and taboo around the subject of feminine hygiene that seems to exist in society, this issue was not being highlighted and these absentees were remaining silent on the true reason for their lack of attendance. This shows that period poverty is a real issue that needs addressing and it is all linked to the current costs of sanitary products.
The Cost of Sanitary Protection
Research from children’s charity Plan International UK reports that 1 in 10 young women aged 14 to 21 years old have been unable to afford period products during their lives. It is estimated that the average lifetime cost of having a period is £4800, which works out as around £128 a month assuming the average woman has 450 periods during her lifetime.1 For many young women this is a significant investment and one that they sadly cannot afford.
Not only is it shocking that in a developed country some girls are denied access to basic healthcare items due to poverty, which impacts their health and wellbeing, but it is equally distressing that this can then affect their education and, ultimately, their future prospects. To compound this, the main reason for this problem not being addressed appears to be the fact that our society is still not comfortable discussing feminine hygiene and issues related to it. As a result, young women feel unable to raise the subject and instead suffer in silence.
Removing the taboo around feminine hygiene
It seems incredible that in this day and age, there still seems to be a stigma around a perfectly natural process that affects half the population. However, as shown in this blog, this appears to be the case and we clearly still have some work to do to improve knowledge and understanding, and ensure people of all ages, and gender, to openly discuss the subjects of feminine hygiene and sanitary protection. It’s not something to be embarrassed about nor is it something that should just be left to the education system. Together, we as a society, can help remove the taboo.
To end on a positive note, one piece of recent news suggest we are perhaps beginning to see a shift in the perception of this subject and a breaking of the taboo already. Bodyform, a leading manufacturer of sanitary protection, have announced that they are, for the very first time, depicting menstrual blood in their latest advertising campaign rather than the inaccurate, and somewhat confusing, blue liquid that has been used up until now. It’s a start.
Sanitary Waste Disposal