Menstrual Matters is proud to have played a small part in the writing of this ground-breaking report on the state of sex and menstruation education in the UK… Here’s our blog on the topic…
Many thanks to Plan UK for funding this research and for taking on the wider advocacy project.
“Shockingly, 1 in 7 girls (14 per cent) in the UK didn’t know what was happening when they started their period, and more than a quarter (26 per cent) didn’t know what to do.”
“The evidence we have suggests that the lack of knowledge and the perpetuation of shame and stigma puts girls’ physical, sexual and mental health at risk“.
Help us to break the stigma and taboo by sharing the #MenstrualManifesto (see below for full details) and taking action!
THE MENSTRUAL MANIFESTO:
1. Listen to girls and other menstruators
They are the experts on their own experiences and know what kind of education and information they want. Young people in England are currently campaigning in their thousands for high quality RSE, led by the Department for Education and delivered in their schools. Their ideas will guide the solutions we need. Young people must also be consulted when guidance is reviewed in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It is clear that there is an egregious lack of knowledge amongst girls and young people around menstruation and without their inclusion in the consultations currently under review, it is unlikely that new guidance will address this gap. In particular, young people living with poverty are often the most unheard: they need to be put at the heart of discussions about solutions and policy making on period poverty.
2. Ensure real world education for all
We welcome the exceptional efforts made by a number of political leaders to end period poverty, shame and taboos. We now need more senior decision makers, elected politicians, and other leaders to become menstruation champions, to ensure the topic remains high on the agenda and that taboos are dissolved by making it an everyday subject.
3. Change the conversation
All primary and secondary school pupils should have specific teaching on menstruation. Girls and boys should be taught about menstruation in integrated classes but also given the space to learn and speak about menstruation separately. This methodology should include all menstruators. Menstruation should be taught regularly throughout the school year, every year and not limited to biology (although accurate biological information is critical) but also cover the physical, emotional, social and practical aspects, as well as ensuring that the needs of people with different abilities are catered for.
It is essential to make sure that teaching materials emphasise the fact that everyone’s period and experience of menstruation is unique, help identify healthy and unhealthy symptoms, and include the positive aspects as well as the challenges.
School policy and infrastructure must recognise the needs of girls and others who menstruate. Toilets should not be locked during the school day. The assurance of free access to toilets when menstruating is key to tackling anxiety, in particular over leaking, and must be allowed as part of healthy menstrual management within every school. Toilets within schools should include at least one toilet with a sink in the cubicle and have adequate provision of bins for disposable menstrual products; this should apply to unisex, accessible and boys’ toilets as well as girls’, to support all genders who menstruate.
Furthermore, every school must support all teachers to be able speak about menstruation and puberty without embarrassment or shame. This can be enabled through widely available information, teacher training and the language used and promoted by senior leaders. Particular attention should be paid to accurate information and the removal of myths and shaming language.
The provision of online resources for parents is vital. In order to comfortably speak to and support their children on the topic of menstruation, knowledge gaps from parents’ own education need to be filled and embarrassment and shame tackled in a safe environment. The information provided should include the respective features and benefits of each method of menstrual health management from a practical, health, financial, and environmental perspective.
4. End period poverty
Local Authorities, in discussion with local researchers and activists, should pilot P-card referral systems for those in period poverty. This model is based on the C-card scheme used widely to support condom distribution and safe use combined with good quality sexual health education and regular contract with a trained professional. Such systems should ensure that those girls and others who menstruate, who are finding it difficult to meet their menstrual needs are given education and training on menstruation management and access to a variety of products, and supported to tackle embarrassment and communication taboos that cause difficulties.
Our research highlighted the specific barriers faced by certain groups of people, those facing homelessness, those with disabilities and menstruators who may be non-binary or trans. Specific consideration should be given to these groups who face additional barriers when ensuring the provision of menstrual management education as well as access to menstrual products.
5. Companies act as part of the solution
Menstrual management product companies should agree to abide by a set of principles around their engagement in schools. These principles should ensure that the speakers provided by these companies are adequately trained to impart accurate information about biology, and social and practical matters. They should also give information about all available (both disposable and reusable) menstrual products. All packaging for menstrual products should include information about the materials/ingredients used and the environmental impact of all parts of the product, including packaging and applicators.
Information about a product’s environmental impact should take into account all aspects of the production process and the extent to which the product will biodegrade, so that consumers can make informed choices.
The Advertising Standards Authority should work with advertising agencies, menstrual product companies and journalists to develop guidelines about the accurate and positive portrayal of menstruation. Young people should also be included in this conversation to ensure that the guidelines impact positively across all areas of their lives.
Media literacy training must be provided in schools to complement menstrual education across the curriculum, to help students understand the motives and themes underpinning advertising campaigns and online services promoting menstrual and other products.
6. Invest in research
A cross-government working group should be set up on menstrual health management, with a focus on investment in research and pilot projects on menstrual health management and quality menstrual education for all.
Investment by the UK government and devolved administrations in research that investigates the outcomes of menstrual policies and interventions adopted by local bodies as well as governments internationally is required. Specific research needs to be conducted into the experiences of adolescent menstruators and menstrual health management in the UK.
1. Write a blog about the report and mention the Menstrual Manifesto (link your blog to www.plan-uk.org/ukperiods)
2. Write to your local MP telling them about your involvement and asking for action on the Menstrual Manifesto
3. Share the report and Menstrual Manifesto with your networks, newsletters, and contacts!