WaterAid has launched a campaign to get young people talking about periods, after finding that a shocking two-thirds of girls and young women aged 14 to 21 knew very little or nothing at all about periods before their own periods started, while 34% of boys and young men admit they are very much in the dark on the subject.
The international charity has teamed up with Jaqueline Wilson and Jodie Whittaker, launching a new animation, written by Wilson, to get children, teachers and parents having more open conversations about periods to help tackle the taboo that is having a damaging effect on women and girls across the world.
This campaign comes as the UK Government introduces new guidance for children to now be taught about health, sex and relationships – including periods – by the time they finish primary school.
WaterAid’s survey of 1,000 young people aged 14-21 found that almost 1 in 4 of the girls and young women said that they didn’t know what was happening when they started their periods and 1 in 7 worried about whether they or their family would be able to afford sanitary products.
Although 41% of young people thought periods were natural, almost a quarter of respondents (24%) would describe periods as embarrassing, and a fifth would describe them as gross.
A significant 78% of the young people surveyed feel that periods should be discussed more openly with everyone, not just girls.
Girls and young women also reported that though they have concerns about their periods, they wouldn’t always feel comfortable discussing their worries. A third worry about whether their periods were normal, yet over half would not even discuss concerns about their periods with a doctor, and 1 in 5 would be too embarrassed to ask anyone for period products, even if they needed them.
One in seven (14%) of the young women and girls have been teased about their periods, and a quarter of the boys and young men have joked with their friends about periods.
Three in five girls reported worrying about periods leaking onto their clothes, with almost half saying this had happened to them at some point.
WaterAid’s new animation, P.E.riod Excuses is written by award-winning children’s author Jacqueline Wilson, narrated by actress and first female Doctor Who, Jodie Whittaker, and illustrated by Wilson’s longtime illustrator, Nick Sharratt. It features three girls discussing their own periods and the very real issues that surround them, as well as how girls and women around the world deal with their periods.
“My stories deal with the real-life situations children and young people face, and this short story is no exception. I wrote P.E.riod Excuses for WaterAid to help get children talking openly about periods, because such a normal, natural part of life shouldn’t be a taboo subject. I believe storytelling – whether that’s speaking, writing, film making, drawing, or anything else – is one of the best ways to address topics that might seem difficult to talk about.
“I love that WaterAid has brought this story to life by animating Nick Sharratt’s illustrations. The story also includes images of girls in the countries where they work, highlighting how this is an issue shared across the globe and helping people understand the challenges millions face having to manage their periods without clean water and toilets.”
The stigma and a lack of knowledge around menstruation fuel inequality and help enforce restrictions on women and girls, such as not being able to go to school or attend certain ceremonies, eat with their family or even sleep in their own home. Globally, one in four people have no access to a decent toilet, making it more difficult to manage their periods hygienically and with dignity. Together with a lack of access to period products, this can keep girls from school and affect women’s ability to work.
WaterAid encourages open conversations about periods, so young girls grow up knowing how to manage their periods hygienically and understanding they aren’t something to be ashamed of, as well as ensuring their voices and needs are heard. The charity ensures boys and men are involved in conversations too, to undo the stigma and taboos that can hold women back.
“I’m proud to have worked with WaterAid on P.E.riod Excuses and enjoyed lending my voice to Jaqueline Wilson’s story, which has such an inspiring message at its heart.
“I like to show girls that they don’t have to be anyone’s sidekick and I think ending the embarrassment about the normal things girls face, like periods, is an important part of that. We can only do this by encouraging more open conversations about menstruation, with boys as well as girls, and both at school and at home. This can have a powerful knock-on effect, helping ensure the needs of women and girls are not overlooked.
“It’s hard to imagine how difficult it must be to manage your periods without proper toilets, running water to keep yourself clean, or adequate period materials, yet this is the reality faced by millions of people across the world. WaterAid is doing such great work across the world helping people get clean water and good sanitation as well as teaching people how to manage their periods hygienically and with dignity.”
To learn more about WaterAid’s work around periods, watch the Jacqueline Wilson animation and find out more about the schools’ competition, visit www.wateraid.org/period-excuses.