Girls and young women in Wales are going to get access to free period products at school, thanks to a new initiative announced by the Welsh government this weekend.
As many as 141,000 girls at primary and secondary schools across the country will benefit from the “period dignity grant for schools” — in a big step against period poverty.
Period poverty essentially means that girls aren't able to afford adequate sanitary products when on their periods, and many are having to miss days of their education as a result.
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According to research from humanitarian organisation Plan International, a fifth (19%) of girls in Britain are having to use “less suitable” products for their periods — such as socks, newspaper, and toilet roll — instead of proper sanitary products.
Nearly half of girls (49%) have had to miss a whole day of school because of their periods, the organisation found.
“We are committed to supporting period dignity and maintaining our investment in schools to help bring period poverty to an end,” said First Minister Mark Drakeford in a statement.
“In March, we declared free sanitary products would be available to all women in Wales’ hospitals — it is only just that the same happens across our schools,” he added.
“It is essential ample sanitary products, as well as good facilities, are available to all female learners so they can manage their periods with confidence and remove what is an unnecessary barrier to their education,” he said.
The Welsh government announced the £2.3 million initiative on Saturday, following a £1.1 million commitment last year to address period poverty in communities and to improve school facilities, according to the government announcement.
Kirsty Williams, the minister for education, said that it’s “unthinkable” that young women and girls are having to miss “days of their education simply because they can’t access or afford period products.”
She added that the period products would be made available to pupils in all schools “in the most dignified way possible.”
Schools are also being encouraged to support “reusable, environmentally sustainable products,” according to the Independent.
The Plan International research also found that some 15% of girls struggle to afford sanitary products, and 14% have had to borrow from a friend.
Previous menstrual hygiene management (MHM) funding in Wales comprised of £440,000 for local authorities up until 2020 to provide sanitary products to schools, food banks, and shelters for those who may otherwise have struggled to afford them, and £700,000 to improve school toilet facilities.
The weekend announcement comes after a similar programme was announced in March by Chancellor Philip Hammond for schoolgirls across England — to come into force from September.
Meanwhile Scotland’s government announced a landmark policy change in August 2018, to provide students at schools, colleges, and universities with free period products — reportedly the first country in the world to introduce such a measure.
In March, following England’s announcement, period campaigners welcomed the news but also called for further action in eliminating the stigma and shame that still surrounds menstruation, which they said requires better education and training.
“Free products won’t solve things if girls are too embarrassed to talk about their periods or don’t understand how their bodies work,” said Lucy Russell, from Plan International UK.
“We urgently need education and training for girls, schools, and parents to help tackle the stigma around periods,” she said.