One in five girls have been bullied over their periods, with the most common taunts being about mood swings and behaviour.
While this might not come as a shock to any woman who’s been asked a ‘Time of the month?’ comment when berating teenage boys for their annoyingness, a new survey from Plan UK paints a concerning picture.
The girls’ rights charity polled 1,000 girls in the UK aged between 14 and 21 and found that 20% have experienced teasing or bullying around their periods.
Over a third (36%) were about their perceived mood or behaviour, 18% were comments about leaking, 15% about their sanitary wear and 10% about being ‘dirty or disgusting’ — which is alarming considering periods are a natural bodily process.
Just under half of the girls (49%) felt able to tell anyone about the bullying with many suffering in silence. The majority (67%) of the teasing took place in a school environment while one in ten girls said they’ve experienced it online.
A 17-year-old girl, who spoke to Plan UK, said one boy in her class called her ‘dirty’ and refused to sit next to her after he overheard her talking privately about her period to a teacher.
‘I was so embarrassed that I went home for the rest of the day,’ she said.
The fact that girls are missing school because they’re being made to feel ashamed about their period is really upsetting. This was echoed by Tanya Barron, Chief Executive of the charity, who said: ‘It’s 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.’
The findings come on the same day – Menstrual Hygiene Day – that the Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mourdant announced Plan UK, Procter and Gamble and the government will chair a period poverty taskforce.
This follows a campaign spearheaded by #FreePeriods activist Amika George which stressed girls were missing school as they couldn’t afford to buy tampons or pads. George and other campaigners successfully lobbied the government to provide free sanitary products to schools, hospitals and women in police custody.
If the government has rightly addressed the fact girls couldn’t attend school due to economic inequality preventing them buying tampons, then the pervading stigma in classrooms around periods needs to be sorted too. Boys need to be educated on how normal periods are, just like girls are taught.
And, we don’t mean, just dropping a tampon in water and seeing how (unusually big) it expands. Boys, and girls, need to learn exactly what they are: An inescapable bodily function which is not disgusting.
This article first appeared on ELLE.