How to Remove Barriers Around Period Poverty in Schools

teenage girls playing netball at school

What is period poverty?

Period poverty refers to the lack of access to safe and sanitary menstrual products due to financial constraints. This can be caused by a wide range of life events and a lack of access to education about menstruation.

Furthermore, period poverty can affect the way a person is treated and how they feel. It can mean feeling powerless and excluded, sadly leading to a loss of dignity and self-esteem, feelings that no one should experience. Plan International UK state that one in ten school aged girls are facing period poverty in the UK.

The barriers school-aged children face

Many children come from different financial backgrounds, and therefore experience period poverty. Period poverty can affect students of all ages in many ways including missing school, poor productivity, and preventing them from participating in sports.

On top of this, school-aged children have other pressures to deal with. The adolescent years are a hard navigational minefield of the biggest psychological and physiological changes humans will ever go through. Hormonal changes take place which cause new fluctuations in moods and behaviours which children can find challenging to deal with. On top of these changes, children may be studying for important exams and defining their identities within their friendship groups.

These struggles can amount to increased pressure within various aspects of a student’s life, and during menstruation, this can be heightened as children may miss school days.

The impact of period poverty on students

Missing education & impact on future career paths

More than 137,700 girls in the UK missed school last year because they couldn’t afford or access period products. 59% of students make up a lie or alternative excuse to miss school such as faking colds or headaches as they feel these reasons are more believable than the real reason. Lack of education may also impact future career choices.

A study looking into the number of women in science, engineering, technology, electronics, and mathematics (STEM) found that as of 2019 only 27% of all STEM workers identify as women, and an even smaller proportion come from low socioeconomic status. A survey commissioned by Microsoft, revealed that the critical window of time to nurture girls’ passion in STEM is between the ages of 11 and 15. Yet, if they are missing school due to a lack of period products and shame associated with menstruation, this window becomes significantly smaller. By improving menstrual equity, this can help create a diverse workforce in all sectors.

Menstruating whilst at school can also be a distraction. 68% of pupils who are unable to access period products, admit they struggle to pay attention in class whilst menstruating or worry they will begin menstruating in school. Some girls worry they may stain their clothes, which can be an even bigger worry when wearing pale clothes to play sports at school. These fears and insecurities cause them to be distracted in class and exam situations which hinders their ability to gain a full, all-rounded education.

Fear of staining clothes can be a worry from adolescent to adult age too. In fact, England women’s football club has recently made changes to their kit in response to concerns about wearing white during their time of the month.

Increase in health-related illnesses

The lack of period products for many school-age children goes beyond just missing school, it can directly impact physical and mental health.

Those who don’t have access to adequate period products are at an increased risk for physical health problems. Without hygienic and safe period products, some girls resort to using alternative ways to deal with their monthly cycle. A UK study from Plan International found that 40% of young girls have been forced to use makeshift period products such as socks, dirty rags, scrunched-up toilet paper, and newspaper in a desperate attempt to manage their periods.

Additionally, 27% of girls admitted they wear products longer than their intended use because they cannot afford to use a fresh one. These methods of menstruation management can cause a lot of health problems, with 31% saying they have caught thrush, and 20% saying they have contracted a urinary tract infection. Perhaps more disturbingly, it has been found in numerous studies throughout the years that some girls try to prolong the time between their periods by skipping meals or taking medication.
In addition to physical consequences, period poverty negatively impacts mental health too. One report found that women who suffer from period poverty are more likely to report moderate to severe depression. Teenage girls may also feel isolated and lonely if they can’t talk about what they’re experiencing, especially at a time when they are likely to be heavily influenced by the opinions of their peers.

Lack of access to period products

The average age girls start to menstruate is 12 years, yet many can start as young as 8 years of age. As children are unable to earn an income, obtaining period products tends to depend on caregivers. For many low-income families, buying period products can be an added strain on already budgeted household expenses, which means some families may have to make the difficult decision of choosing between food and sanitary items.

Many schools are trying to play their part in tackling period poverty by making period products available from the school nurse in their welfare room or adopting a codeword to alert the teacher that they need sanitary support. However, offering period products in this way can be embarrassing for the pupil. In a recent survey, 78% of girls reported they still do not feel comfortable enough to ask their teacher for a pass to visit the school nurse. Students would rather suffer through their period using other methods such as toilet roll or resort to going home instead.

Taboos, stigma, and lack of education

Another barrier to access period products at home is cultural differences. In some cultures, there is stigma and taboo around periods resulting in children being too embarrassed to admit they have started their period, or have never been taught what it is. One study found that a staggering 44% of girls weren’t aware of what was happening to them the first time they had a period.

It has been shown that the stigma around periods directly affects a student’s potential to succeed. Most students are not educated on how to manage or treat the pain periods cause. Studies have shown that students who struggle with pain experience reduced classroom performance and a lower rate of school attendance. And, if a student must miss school every time they have a period, they can find themselves to be behind their fellow students by 145 days.

Lack of access to adequate washrooms

One of the most cited barriers faced by children who menstruate in schools is the inability to access the toilet within lesson and exam times. Many schools follow strict rules that do not allow pupils to use the toilet during lesson times unless they have exceptional circumstances. This means children can shy away from asking their teacher if they can use the toilet during their time of the month.

Additionally, many pupils start their menstruation cycle from the age of 9 years, yet schools don’t tend to start providing adequate disposal facilities until pupils hit secondary school, which is around 12 years of age.

Lack of access to adequate washrooms that provide period products and safe sanitary waste disposal facilities can negatively impact a student’s education, hinder their ability to reach their potential, and is another reason why children may miss school during their period.

Is it mandatory to provide period products in schools?

In 2020, the UK government launched the period products scheme. The scheme aims to provide period products in all state-maintained schools and 16-19 educational organisations in England. Although this is a big step in tackling period poverty within schools, it comes with its drawbacks. The scheme is only in place till 2024 and schools must apply for a budgeted amount of period products. However, this can mean that when their allocated budget runs out, they will not be able to obtain free period products under the scheme for the rest of the academic year. This can be an issue for schools in low-income areas where the need for free period products is greater.

The scheme does not state how schools or organisations should distribute period products either. Instead of washrooms, schools can store them with the staff nurse or designated teachers. This may deter students from accessing free products, even if they desperately need them.

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What can schools do

Although the government has started to offer more help for educational establishments, there are other ways schools and other organisations can help.


By improving health education around periods, schools can improve attendance and empower students to talk about how their periods are affecting them. Being able to talk openly about menstruation will help to break stigmas and give pupils the confidence to ask for support when they need it.

Provide period dignity in school washrooms

Providing adequate and hygienic washroom facilities goes beyond ensuring children can wash and dry their hands. It also means making sure that children can manage their periods with dignity in school washrooms.

Touch-free sanitary waste disposal bins that prevent cross-contamination should be available in all junior and secondary school washrooms.

Provide free period products

Providing period products in school bathrooms would take away the worry of asking the school nurse or teacher for these. Giving students free access to period products will ensure all children are supported with the essentials they need during their time of the month. It will also reduce any concerns that they may have about starting their period unexpectedly and allow them to fully concentrate on their education, without distractions.

Citron Hygiene has partnered with Aunt Flow to provide free-vend period product dispensers. Installing these dispensers in your washrooms may make all the difference to the education a student has, their wellbeing, and improve attendance significantly.
Get a quote by contacting our team today.

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