Periods should be discussed in “plain and open and language” to help break down any lingering stigma about them in society, a public health specialist has said.
Andrea Smith, from Lancashire County Council, told a meeting of the authority’s health scrutiny committee that failing to discuss the issue risked masking so-called “period poverty” – where girls and women struggle to afford sanitary products.
She was presenting a report commissioned by councillors last year into what can be done to tackle the problem in Lancashire. It recommends raising awareness of the issue locally, while awaiting the findings a government task force which has since been set up to explore the subject.
“Raising awareness [means]…saying things how they are and not dressing them up in other terminology, because ‘that’s how we’ve always done it’,” Ms. Smith said.
The report concludes that “too many girls lack the knowledge and understanding of how to manage their period, are too afraid to ask for advice and are unable to afford the products to support them”.
But Stuart Morris, deputy chair of the committee, said poverty cannot explain poor parenting when it comes to failing to educate young girls about their periods.
“I know there are issues with lack of money, but at what point did parents stop telling their daughters [about periods]…and making them aware of how to deal with them?” County Cllr Morris asked.
“When did this particular breakdown in parenting [become] evident?”
When he noticed fellow committee member David Borrow shaking his head at the question, he challenged him as to why.
“It’s about poverty,” County Cllr Borrow told him.
“Why is parenting to do with poverty?” County Cllr Morris – who is a father of two daughters – responded.
Research by the charity Plan in 2017 found that a quarter of 14-21-year-olds across the UK did not know what to do when their periods started and more than one in ten had been forced to improvise their sanitary wear because they were unable to afford conventional products.
Since County Hall began to investigate period poverty last October, the government has announced that free sanitary products will be made available in all primary and secondary schools and further education colleges.
The committee recommended that the council launch an education campaign targeting schools in the county.
County Cllr Peter Steen told fellow members that any stigma needed to be broken down not just amongst women, but older generations of men.
“When I got married 40-odd years ago, if I went into a shop to buy products for my wife, there was absolute shock,” he recalled.
“It’s not just young girls who require this help and information – it’s also my generation that needs educating.”