One in five girls and young women bullied or teased over periods, study finds

Maya Oppenheim

One in five girls and young women are teased or bullied because of their periods and many suffer in silence, according to a study.

The poll of 1,000 UK girls aged between 14 and 21 reveals 20 per cent have experienced teasing or bullying around their periods – with only half telling anyone about it.

Some 67 per cent said abuse was mainly occurring in schools, with 66 per cent saying they have missed classes because of their period.

Tanya Barron, chief executive Plan International UK, the charity who carried out the research, said girls are “facing unacceptable stigma and shame linked to their periods”.

She said: “Not only is this damaging girls’ confidence and self-esteem, it’s also having an often overlooked impact on their education. Girls tell us they are missing out on school because of their period and struggling to catch up on schoolwork as a result. We can’t allow this to continue.”

Negative comments which the girls surveyed had experienced included remarks about being dirty or disgusting, comments making them feel ashamed or uncomfortable, remarks about their perceived mood or behaviour, comments about leaking and teasing around sanitary wear.

Negative feelings around periods were found to be entrenched in girls from when they first start their periods – half of girls say they felt anxious when they first started, one third felt embarrassed, while three in 10 report feeling frightened.

Atlanta, a 17-year-old from Manchester, said: “I’ve heard periods called awful, disgusting. I’ve been told to ‘get over it’. When my friends and I would try to discuss periods, boys would tell us to be quiet. One boy even called me ‘dirty’ and refused to sit next to me in class after he overheard me talking about my period privately to a teacher. I was so embarrassed that I went home for the rest of the day.

“We need to be teaching girls and boys about periods. They need to know that they are a normal thing and not something dirty or disgusting.”

In March, the government pledged to offer free sanitary products in secondary schools by 2020, but came under criticism from campaigners for not offering the products in primary schools. In April, the Department for Education pledged to do this.

The research published by Plan International UK on Tuesday comes as minister for women and equalities Penny Mordaunt prepares to announce the charity as co-chair of its period poverty taskforce.

They will work to tackle stigma and boost education around periods. Both the accessibility of period products and the “tampon tax” will be investigated.

Sanitary products in the UK are classed as a “luxury, non-essential item” and taxed at 5 per cent – with the average lifetime cost of sanitary products estimated at £4,800.

Ms Mordaunt said: “For too long women and girls in the UK have faced unnecessary adversity around their periods, that is why we have formed this new taskforce.

“Our two new co-chairs, Plan International UK and Procter & Gamble, have already produced impressive work around the country to improve access to period products and change old-fashioned attitudes to menstruation and break down taboos.“

Period poverty is a prevalent problem in the UK – with previous research finding 49 per cent of girls have missed a day of school due to periods and one in 10 women aged 14 to 21 are not able to afford period products. Girls have reportedly used toilet roll, socks and newspapers to manage their periods.