What is period poverty?
‘Period poverty’ means being unable to access sanitary products and having a poor knowledge of menstruation often due to financial constraints. In the UK, 1 in 10 girls can’t afford to buy menstrual products, while 1 in 7 have struggled to afford them, according to a representative survey of 1,000 girls and young women aged 14-21 by Plan International UK.
In March 2017, Freedom4Girls found that students in the UK are missing school because of this issue. The charity provides access to safe menstrual products in Kenya, but their findings revealed that period poverty was an issue that also hit closer to home.
How does period poverty hold girls back?
Not having access to a safe and hygienic way to deal with menstruation can have profound consequences; particularly on a girl’s education. Research by Plan International UK found that 49 per cent of girls have missed an entire day of school because of their period. 59 per cent of these girls have made up a lie or an alternative excuse to avoid going to school.1 Over the course of a year, 137,700 children in the UK miss school because of period poverty.2
Another problem intertwined with period poverty is the taboo surrounding menstruation, this can be particularly harmful to girls going through puberty. In a survey of more than 1,000 girls, nearly half were embarrassed by their period, many were afraid to ask for help because of the stigma and 68% said they felt less able to pay attention in class at school or college while menstruating.3
This stigma surrounding periods has been shown to directly affect a child’s potential to succeed. Studies conclude that the knowledge of effective treatments for period pain is low4 and girls with period pain experience reduced classroom performance and a lower level of class attendance.5 If a pupil misses school every time they have their period, they are set 145 days behind their fellow students.
These findings led MSP Monica Lennon to call for sanitary products to be issued for free in schools, which was coupled with an increased focus across the UK on providing sanitary products to homeless shelters, local charities and food banks. In a massive step forward, in March 2019 the government announced a free sanitary product scheme across secondary schools and colleges in a bid to tackle period poverty.
The battle to end period poverty
In response to the UK period poverty crisis, in 2017 Bodyform pledged to donate 100k sanitary towels to those in need every month for 3 years.
In January 2020, we doubled our commitment to help continue the fight against period poverty. So far we’ve donated 3.6 million pads to local community groups and charitable organisations and we’ve seen the positive impact this has had. We pledge to supply 100k pads per month in a new commitment with In Kind Direct which will increase the number of pads donated to 6.6 million by 2023.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bodyform has been proud to be a partner to the NHS Blue Light Scheme. Through In Kind Direct, Bodyform donated approximately 300,000 additional intimate care products to support frontline NHS workers. Due to the coronavirus lockdown, the number of people facing period poverty has risen sharply6. To help combat this, Essity (Bodyform’s parent company) donated £172,000 worth of product through In Kind Direct to benefit 854 charities working to help those struggling with isolation, low self-esteem and financial concerns during this period of crisis. Bodyform also provided two pallets of menstrual products to Freedom4Girls to continue supporting those experiencing period poverty during this difficult time.
To make sure our pads are reaching the people who need them the most, we partnered with In Kind Direct; the charity distributes new and unused products, donated by retailers and manufacturers, to charities, social enterprises and not-for-profit organisations across the UK. Founded in 1996 by HRH The Prince of Wales, In Kind Direct has distributed almost £240 million in value of goods from almost 1,200 companies, helping 10,000 voluntary and community organisations reach millions of people in need.
Through In Kind Direct Bodyform have been able to help those who are most in need. A spokesperson from the Hayling Island Community Centre Association speaks of one example of a single mum of 3 teenage daughters struggling to buy life’s bare essentials, being on minimum benefits while looking for a job: “we put together a box of items for her, including enough sanitary towels to see her and her daughters through the year. She was extremely grateful for this.”
Research shows that 37 per cent of the nation – and 56 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds – have had to go without hygiene or grooming essentials, or cut down on them due to lack of funds7. Through In Kind Direct we’ve also been able to help British Red Cross Refugee services like The Hackney Destitution Resource Centre, who provide support to destitute asylum seekers and refugees to distribute life-changing hygiene packs which help beneficiaries maintain normality and dignity.
Charities like Period Power in Staffordshire don’t just provide sanitary and hygiene products to those in need, they also do invaluable work to raise awareness locally, such as by holding talks and workshops in nearby schools to break down taboos around talking about periods. Bodyform has been able to support their brilliant work by donating products, which Period Power distributes to over 100 foodbanks and charities as well as over 200 schools throughout Staffordshire and the West Midlands.
Bodyform products have also been used to tackle period poverty across the globe. The charity British Earthquake And Tsunami Support (BEATS) was established following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and now provides food, shelter and education for children primarily in Sumatra, Indonesia. With the help of In Kind Direct, BEATS has been able to distribute Bodyform towels to young women in Indonesia, many of whom are earthquake victims and living in children’s homes.
So far, Essity (Bodyform’s parent company) has donated a total of £1.4 million of product. 1,062 charitable organisations benefitted from these donations in 2018, including those relating to domestic violence, health, child and youth care, local communities, and ethnic support groups. In 2019, Bodyform alone donated period products to 614 charitable organisations across the UK, while 833 benefitted from other Essity products over the same period. These goods help them to keep supporting the hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries they work with on an ongoing basis.
Stopping the stigma in schools
Period poverty is a challenge too many girls face when they should be concentrating on their schoolwork instead - 40% of girls in the UK have used toilet roll because they couldn’t afford menstrual products and 68% said they felt less able to pay attention in class at school or college while menstruating.8
To ensure no girl misses education because of her period, we partnered with The Red Box Project - a company who deliver red boxes filled with donated pads, tampons, tights and underwear directly to local schools. The project was founded by 3 friends in March 2017 who wanted to help people in their local area of Portsmouth. What started with just 8 boxes in July 2017 led to 5,510 active boxes positioned all over the UK. The project is still supporting schools up until the launch of the government free period product scheme starting in January 2020.
Watch the full video to find out more about both our involvement and the positive effects of the project here:
In a bid to tackle the educational aspects of period poverty, we launched a pilot scheme of workshops for high school girls which aimed to break down menstrual taboos and normalise conversations about periods, so that girls would no longer feel ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help. Working with the Self Esteem Team, we delivered workshops to 2,500 girls aged 11-17 within the UK.
We worked with 12 schools from underprivileged or impoverished areas. They received free packs of Bodyform products and were introduced to In Kind Direct to help with any further needs.
Get involved with period poverty
If you’re interested in helping organisations in your own area tackle period poverty, your local food bank or shelter would welcome donations of menstrual products, or you can find a list of other ways to help here.
1Plan International UK - https://plan-uk.org/media-centre/plan-international-uks-research-on-period-poverty-and-stigma
3Plan International UK - https://plan-uk.org/media-centre/plan-international-uks-research-on-period-poverty-and-stigma
4I. Thirza et al., ’ Primary Dysmenorrhea in Young Western Australian Women: Prevalence, Impact, and knowledge of Treatment’, Journal of Adolescent Health, vol.25, 1999, pp 40–45.
5Banikarim C, Chacko MR, Kelder SH. Prevalence and impact of dysmenorrhea on hispanic female adolescents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2000;154(12):1226-1229; Chiou MH, Wang HH. Predictors of dysmenorrhea and self-care behavior among vocational nursing school female students. J Nurs Res. 2008;16(1):17-25; Khamdan HY, et al., The Impact of Menstrual Period on Physical Condition, Academic Performance and Habits of Medical Students, Journal of Womens Health Care, 2014; Chia CF, et al., Dysmenorrhoea among Hong Kong university students: prevalence, impact, and management. Hong Kong Medical Journal. 2013;19(3):222-228
7In Kind Direct
8Plan International UK