Periods Don’t Stop for Pandemics
13th May 2020
Efforts to tackle period poverty during the pandemic must continue. Girls have been struggling to access products like tampons and pads during lockdown and do not know where they can get hold of them for free. Whilst the Department for Education’s free period product scheme is continuing, there are challenges to delivering it. The DfE should take urgent action to ensure that all young people who need them know about, and can access, publicly funded period products.The DfE should take urgent action to ensure that all young people who need them know about, and can access, publicly funded period products. Click To Tweet
Bleeding during lockdown
It has been difficult to get hold of menstruation products during lockdown. Whilst press coverage about basic supplies has largely focussed on toilet roll and food shortages, period products have also been difficult to find in shops.
The lockdown is also exacerbating period poverty for many young people and their families. Many parents/carers are under increased financial strain, making it more difficult to buy tampons, pads and moon-cups.
These challenges intensify an experience that is already difficult for young people due to the stigma around periods. Managing menstruation during lockdown will be hard for young people who struggle to access products and feel like they cannot discuss the issue due to fear of shame and embarrassment.These challenges intensify an experience that is already difficult for young people due to the stigma around periods. Click To Tweet
Plan International UK show how the lockdown is negatively impacting 14-21-year-old girls and the way they manage their periods:
- Almost a third (30%) of girls have had issues either affording or accessing period products during the lockdown
- Over half of these girls (54%) have used toilet paper as an alternative to period products. However, one in five (20%) also said their periods had been more difficult to manage during lockdown due to toilet paper shortages
Something is clearly going wrong with policy delivery. Plan International UK’s survey reveals that there are two main issues:
- Girls do not know about the scheme: two fifths (42%) of girls who struggle to afford products did not know where to get them
- Period stigma: a third (30%) of girls who struggle to afford products felt too embarrassed to seek out a source of free products.
Delivering the free period products scheme
In January 2020, the Department for Education launched its ‘free period products scheme.’ Schools can order menstruation products directly from phs, who have been contracted by the DfE. Schools can then distribute the products to any girls, non-binary or transgender young people who need them. Before lockdown schools may have been doing this by leaving products in toilets, or with a designated staff member, for young people to pick up.
Whilst phs have confirmed that the scheme is still running, lockdown means that schools will have to change the way they distribute products because most pupils will not be able to pick products up themselves. This is likely to mean that pupils and their families will need to tell schools if they are struggling to access products so that schools can make arrangements for home delivery.
Period stigma will therefore make delivering this policy during lockdown challenging. Young people or parents/carers may feel too embarrassed or ashamed to come forward and ask for tampons and pads.Young people or parents/carers may feel too embarrassed or ashamed to come forward and ask for tampons and pads. Click To Tweet
Added to this, school closures throw up logistical hurdles for distributing products to young people who need them. For instance, should schools post products or should they be delivering period products directly to all pupils who ask for them? If so, how often should this be done? If not, should parents/carers pick products up from school?
Charities like The Redbox Project and Free Periods are spreading awareness of the scheme and have created resources to help parents and young people get in touch with their school or college about accessing products. Phs the company commissioned by the DfE, have also discussed the scheme and lockdown in the press.
The DfE however, has not issued any information about the scheme continuing during lockdown specifically and should do more. By supporting these groups to spread awareness, the DfE would help to tackle period stigma and ensure that information about the scheme reaches a wider audience.
The DfE should:
- Work with schools and the third sector to communicate directly to parents/carers: The DfE should ask schools to remind parents/carers about the scheme. They could also work with organisations like ParentKind to share the message and frame it in a way that tackles menstruation stigma.
- Support social media and advertising campaigns: The DfE could provide funding for period organisations, youth charities and youth activists to expand social media and advertising campaigns. This would make more parents, young people and schools aware of the scheme and how to get hold of products. Campaigns could also highlight ‘best practice’ from schools in regards to ideas for the safe dissemination of products. As well as this, campaigning could be used to empower more young people and tackle period stigma.
Periods don’t stop for pandemics and menstruators need access to products. It is encouraging to see that the DfE and phs are still making period products available to young people during lockdown. To make a success of this well-intentioned policy, the DfE now need to support efforts to spread awareness about the free period products scheme and tackle menstruation stigma.To make a success of this well-intentioned policy, the DfE now need to support efforts to spread awareness about the free period products scheme and tackle menstruation stigma. Click To Tweet