An 11-year-old schoolgirl from Bristol was left bleeding through her clothes on two separate occasions because teachers reportedly wouldn’t let her use the toilet during lessons.
And the girl, who hasn’t been named to protect her identity, has reportedly been left “humiliated” and “scared” to go to school while on her period as a result, according to Bristol Live.
While the child has now been given a toilet pass, her mother is concerned about the impact the experience has had on her daughter, and what it teaches girls around the country about their periods.
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“They should not be making young girls feel guilty because she needs to go to the bathroom and sort out her basic care,” the child’s mother told Bristol Live. “Now, she’s scared to go to school in case they won’t let her out of the classroom. That’s not what we should be teaching girls.”
“We should be allowing them to go as part of giving them the tools to achieve their goals whether they are on or off their period,” she added.
Despite asking several times to go to the toilet, according to her mother, the girl was refused by two different members of staff in September and October last year — and now her mother is speaking out to try to inspire change.
“They kept saying it was their policy but I really think they should change their policy if that’s the case, they need to do better,” she added. “I mean, my daughter is one among thousands of girls in any number of schools in Bristol and up and down the country, so this can’t just be happening to her and it’s not acceptable.”
It’s part of a larger problem impacting girls across the UK, with girls and young women missing school, college, and university because of their periods.
There are many reasons why a girl might want or need to miss school when on her period. For example, it could be a traumatic incident such as that experienced by the girl in Bristol, making them embarrassed about being on their period while at school; period pain causing them to stay at home; or not having enough money for period products to keep them clean and comfortable during the day.
But in each circumstance, it’s an obstacle to girls accessing education.
In fact, 49% of girls and young women aged 14 to 21 in Britain have missed an entire day of school because of their period, according to research from Plan International UK in 2017.
Period poverty is an issue that has gained significant exposure in recent months — with 10% of girls found to have been unable to afford sanitary wear. Meanwhile, some 12% have had to improvise sanitary wear because they couldn’t afford proper products.
Action is being taken to combat period poverty across the country. Scotland, for example, last year became the first country to offer free sanitary products to all students.
Meanwhile, campaigners have launched initiatives such as the Red Box Project — in which the school in Bristol is reportedly involved — a charity that works to supply free period products to people that might need them.
Campaigner Amika George, the 19-year-old founder of the #FreePeriods campaign, has also launched a new legal effort to “make sure no child misses school because they can’t afford pads or tampons” — calling on policymakers in the UK to make period products free in schools.
And three students from Glasgow — Orlaith Duffy, Erin Slaven, and Mikaela McKinley — are also working their period poverty-combatting magic in the football world, by calling on clubs to provide period products for free in their women’s toilets as part of their “On the Ball” campaign.
But the issues with girls being allowed to access toilets while on their periods, as highlighted by the story in Bristol, is an indication that there are a lot of problems with awareness around girls’ and women’s needs while on their period that still need to be addressed.