Girls say they are being denied toilet breaks and given detention for taking too long in the loo while on their periods.
Young women told The Independent they struggled to access free products in schools and were having “awkward” conversations with “insensitive” teachers about their periods. They also raised concerns about not being taught about menstruation and said they were bullied by male classmates over their periods.
It comes as damning new research, carried out by a coalition of UK charities campaigning against period poverty, found six in 10 girls have found it difficult to go the toilet while on their period during lessons.
It found a third of young people are skipping school due to struggles to access period products as well as the stigma around menstruation in schools. This is estimated to amount to over three million school days missed each year.
The study, which Bloody Good Period, Irise, In Kind Direct, Cysters, and Freedom4Girls contributed to, found a quarter of girls said they were forced to state exactly why they need the loo.
Some 44 per cent of girls struggle to access free period products at school, while the same amount said they feel too embarrassed to request period products at school, and a quarter reported feeling too humiliated to tell a teacher when they began their period.
The research has been launched to coincide with a new campaign fronted by young activists backed by Girlguiding among others championing “period dignity” in schools called Every Period Counts.
Caitlin Vaughan, an 18-year-old student who lives in Sheffield, told The Independent: “Teachers can be insensitive about periods and lack sympathy and compassion.”
Ms Vaughan noted period products were available in both her secondary school and sixth form but it was a struggle to get them as she warned it was “uncomfortable” requesting a pad or a tampon in front of the class.
She added: “If it was a male teacher, it would be a really awkward conversation. The whole nature is it is a taboo subject.
“Then the teacher would refer you to the head of year or someone who had products available in their office. It was very lengthy, complicated, and exhausting - especially if you have PMS or cramps and you are walking everywhere. We would have to trek around the school just to get a pad or a tampon.”
Ms Vaughan said she briefly learned about periods at primary school but had not been taught about menstruation during secondary school or sixth form other than in biology class. The lack of education meant periods “felt scary” to some girls, she added.
April Dagnall, 22, told The Independent she and her friend were given detention by a female teacher for arriving two minutes late to a lesson as her friend was in the toilet changing a period product.
“We did say when the class had left, we were in the toilet because she was on her period, but she didn’t care,” she added. “She just gave us lunchtime detention.”
Ms Dagnall also said she was banned from going to the toilet by teachers even when she explained she was on her period.
“But most girls won’t say as during secondary the lads will bully you over your period,” she said. “They make little comments like ‘you smell’.”
Rachel Grocott, chief executive of Bloody Good Period, told The Independent they were routinely contacted by students who have been stopped from taking toilet breaks as well as those who've been “publicly interrogated” by teachers as to why they need to go to the bathroom, or shamed by other students.
She noted menstrual cycles were “especially likely to be changeable” and often “hard to predict” at this age.
“During my year 10 English Language exam, I leaked on my exam chair and went two hours sitting and not saying a word,” Tilly, a 16-year-old girl from Cardiff, said. “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.”
Researchers also found 13 per cent of girls said their school or college failed to offer free period products at all, while just over half stated they were never taught how to use them in school or college. The government announced in spring 2019 that girls would be given free sanitary items in schools from early 2020.
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