• Young activists across the UK have come together to campaign to make period dignity a reality in schools
  • A third of young girls are missing school due to a lack of care or access to period products – that’s over 3 million days missed every year 
  • Nearly half of all school girls are struggling to access period products at school 
  • 61% of girls have had issues accessing toilets in lessons when on their period 

DATE: 26th May 2023: A third of young people across the UK are missing school due to a lack of access to period products and the shame surrounding periods in schools. 

New data commissioned by a group of UK charities fighting period poverty; Birmingham based charity Cysters, Irise, In Kind Direct, Freedom4Girls and Bloody Good Period has today revealed that a third of young girls are missing school due to a lack of care or access to period products, which equates to over 3 million days missed every year. Nearly half (44%) of girls have difficulty accessing free period products at school, and a further 44% of girls feel too embarrassed to ask for period products at school, and a quarter (24%) have been too embarrassed to notify a teacher when they have started their period. 

To realise period dignity in schools, Irise International and others* has brought together young activists across the UK to launch its campaign Every Period Counts, to shift the shame from young students back to those in power to bring a much-needed end to period poverty through shame-free access to period products in all schools. 

There’s little wonder that girls are experiencing period shame, given that 61% of girls have had issues accessing toilets in lesson when on their period, and a further 25% having to justify exactly why they needed to go to the toilet, leaving one in four girls (24%) having to hide their period products when accessing a toilet at school. 

One student commented, “My teachers don’t let me go to the toilet on my period. Or just at all. And the ones that do, let me say I can’t take my bag, but then everyone would see my products. I wish they’d put some in the toilets, like on the wall in the cubicle, so you could just have them there and then.”

*The Every Period Counts campaign is backed by Irise, Plan International, Bloody Good Period, Girl Guiding, Freedom4Girls, Cysters, Period Positive, Modibodi, In Kind Direct, Tees,Tok Ko youth space,  Sex Ed Matters, Brook, Element Society, Birmingham City University, Golddigger Trust, The Sikh Human Rights Group and Love Your Period.

It is capturing the horror stories of young people across the UK, with over 100 stories submitted in the first 24 hours of the campaign going live and with over 600 stories flooding in so far. These first-hand accounts reveal the shocking reports of students being denied access to toilets in lessons and being left to bleed onto their seats. 

Tara Bachoo aged from 19 of Cysters, comments, “I felt like I was living in a nightmare throughout my National 5’s to Advanced Highers. I bled out onto the back of my skirt which leaked blood on the chair I was sitting on on several occasions and I constantly had to run out of English and Biology classes to throw up. Additionally, I had teachers look confused when I took out my phone and dug it into my stomach to control searing pain, and some looked in dismay when I didn’t participate in PE or other activities, just because I was on my period. At school, what do you think this does to a young girl’s confidence? I dreaded going to school and would wake up in the night sweating in an anxiety attack.

Tilly, aged 16, from Cardiff, comments, “During my year 10 English Language exam, I leaked on my exam chair and went 2 hours sitting and not saying a word. At this time, products were hidden away in the cupboards, and none were available in the exam venue. At the end of the exam, I broke down as I didn’t know what to do. My school had locked the girls’ toilets, and we only had one unisex toilet.”

Alarmingly, more than 1 in 10 schools still don’t provide free period products, with 13% of girls stating that their school/college doesn’t offer free period products at all. Education is still a big problem, too, with a huge 52% of girls saying they have never been taught how to use period products at school or college. 

The Every Period Counts campaign intends to show schools, local councils and national policymakers why Period Dignity matters to Young People. 

The campaign is calling for Period Dignity to be realised through key actions: 

  1. All UK schools to make free period products available in a shame-free way to everyone who needs them.
  2. The UK government to commit to a new action plan to eradicate period poverty and shame in UK schools by 2025
  3. Politicians to make period dignity a right by legislating for it in England and Wales

Neelam Heera-Shergill, Founder of Cysters, comments, “Young people are tired of being unheard and having decisions made for them without them. It is important for them to be included in the decision-making process that effects them day to day in schools. When menstruation is a conversation that is kept quiet and hidden away, it promotes more shame and stigma for those who need the help especially with the rising costs of living. We are also concerned that the more marginalised people in our society are the ones who have been hit the hardest, and we to hope to kept their voice at the forefront of our advocacy. We are calling upon the government to support the efforts of grassroots organisations like us, and commit to ending period poverty by 2025.”

Emily Wilson, CEO of Irise International, comments,Young people are sick of missing out on class, sports and other opportunities because society won’t prioritise their basic needs. They are done with feeling ashamed and are claiming their right to menstruate with dignity in UK schools. Despite policy and budget commitments, more work is needed in UK schools to realise the government’s vision of ending period poverty and shame for all by 2025. Period poverty and shame are getting worse due to the cost-of-living crisis, meaning that more young people are experiencing anxiety and indignity every month and missing out on crucial education as a result.”

The campaign is equipping young people, supporters and partners to reach out to schools, local councils and MPs to call for more action. Schools and local councils in England and Wales will be called upon to enrol in the free Period Product Schemes and take simple steps to ensure access is shame-free.

MPs in England and Wales will be called upon to make the free period product schemes mandatory for all schools and colleges and to make period products available for free to all young people, not just those living in poverty, which only increases the stigma.

Plan International UK’s Head of Policy, Advocacy and Research, Amelia Whitworth, said: “Girls have told us time and again both in here in the UK and globally that, lack of access to period products and the shame surrounding periods, is directly impacting their education.

“We were encouraged by the Government’s action to supply free period products in schools, but it is clear that many young people still face barriers to accessing the products they need. We stand with Irise campaigners, shedding light on their experiences in order to see the change that is long overdue. It is vital that nobody misses out on learning because of being on their period.”

The campaign, which is funded by the first ever Modibodi Gamechanger grant, will culminate with a parade in Westminster on the 28th of May at 2 pm where the official period counter, along with stories from students across the UK will be shared with No 10 Downing Street. Head to Every Period Counts to learn more and join the campaign for Period Dignity for young people in the UK.