Imagine having your period and walking around worried you’re going to leak through your clothes. New research shows this fear — caused by a lack of sanitary products and the ability to afford them — is leading girls in the UK to avoid extracurriculars and sports.
The sanitary product brand Always partnered with market research company OnePoll to conduct the survey, focusing on girls aged 10 to 18 years old, according to HuffPost UK. Always released the report on Thursday, revealing 26% of those surveyed said they avoid social situations because they don’t have sanitary products. Another 27% said they avoid going out altogether once a month because their families don’t have enough money to buy period products.
“All girls should have access to the same opportunities in life and this includes extracurricular activities such as sport,” Ania Bielecka, senior communications manager at Always, told the London Economic.
Staying active can be a challenge for girls who don’t have the resources to manage their periods — 25% of those surveyed said they won’t visit the gym or participate in any sports when menstruating.
The study found that period poverty negatively impacts girls’ social lives, too. One-fifth of the girls polled said they are choosing not to go to houses or see their friends on their period.
Read More: Period Poverty: Everything You Need to Know
Always polled a small sample group of 500 girls. But Molly Brown, the education program manager at the UK-based menstrual equity organization Hey Girls, told Global Citizen it is important that more research on the topic is coming out.
Period poverty is difficult to research — people can be very embarrassed to admit it’s a problem, especially when they’re navigating the challenges that come with puberty.
“We know that teenagers living in poverty already exclude themselves from lots of activities which they know they can't afford, to save putting pressure on their parents,” Brown explained. “The experience of having a period on top of that means girls have to navigate the stigma of living in poverty as well as the cultural shame that surrounds menstruation.”
To measure the long-term effects of these missed opportunities, Always conducted a second poll of 1,500 women to find out what impact out-of-school activities had on their lives. More than a fifth of women believe they have been held back due to not always being able to participate in recreational activities. Of the women, 22% believe they now lack the skills necessary for teamwork. One-fifth of women who were unable to attend social events and activities when they were younger said it made them less employable, whereas 43% of women who were able to participate in out-of-school activities at a young age said it helped shape their careers.
Steph Houghton, captain of the England national football team and Always ambassador, said it saddens her to hear period poverty is affecting girls’ education and stopping them from doing what they love, according to HuffPost UK.
England football captain @StephHoughton2 is backing a campaign to tackle 'period poverty'.— Sky News (@SkyNews) August 8, 2019
She says too many girls are "missing out" on sports because they can't afford sanitary products.
To read more UK news, click here: https://t.co/r4UeMWGB4Lpic.twitter.com/9cME9seUcC
Houghton attributes her success to after-school programs.
“It was in after-school clubs that I found football and being part of a squad really helped build my confidence, introduced me to a new group of friends and shaped my future,” she said.
On the upside, government efforts to combat period poverty in the UK are already making a positive difference. Following a two-year campaign led by teen activist Amika George, free period products became available in English secondary schools and colleges in March. Since then, 48% of girls who answered the poll said they are now participating in activities they wouldn’t have before without these products.
While free tampons and pads aren’t going to solve period poverty alone, getting governments to acknowledge the need is a start to achieve menstrual equity.
In response to the study’s findings, Always and sanitary product brand Tampax are donating products to after-school clubs and UK Youth, a network of more than 3,500 organizations, according to the London Economic. The brands hope that giving girls access to free period products while they’re out of school will help them develop hobbies and interests that build confidence and help them reach their full potential.
“We hope this will give girls the freedom to take part in the activities that they love,” Bielecka said.