Periods and menstrual hygiene | ActionAid UK

Periods and menstrual hygiene

Many women and girls in poverty across the world are not able to access clean and safe sanitary products, because they are unaffordable or unavailable. This has a huge impact on the lives of women and girls, from preventing them from going to school to increasing the likelihood of infections, which exacerbate cycles of poverty and inequality. 

That’s why ActionAid recognises that sanitary products are not a ‘nice-to-have’ – they are essential in helping women and girls break out of poverty and take control of their own lives.

Periods and girls’ education

If girls don’t have access to sanitary towels or to private toilets at school, they can be forced to skip school during their periods. When girls miss several days of school a month, they are more likely to drop out altogether, putting them at greater risk of early child marriage.

In addition, secrecy and taboos surrounding periods mean that some girls have never heard of menstruation before their first period, making it a confusing and traumatic experience. Without sex education, myths about periods continue. 

ActionAid provides schoolgirls with sanitary towels and works with communities to improve access to toilets so that girls are able to continue their schooling uninterrupted. We also set up period “safe rooms” in schools where girls can get information and ask questions about menstrual hygiene, sex and pregnancy, so that they are better informed about their bodies.

Periods and humanitarian disasters 

Women who have lost everything as a result of humanitarian crises tell us that amongst the essential items they need most are sanitary towels, wipes and soap. Without sanitary towels, women and girls are forced to use improvised methods to manage their periods, including torn pieces of clothing and rags, which can cause painful infections

ActionAid provides kits containing sanitary towels in our humanitarian response work, distributing them in emergencies including the East Africa food crisis in 2017, and the Nepal earthquakes in 2015. This enables women and girls to manage their periods hygienically and with dignity.

Sanitary towels changing lives in Malawi

In Malawi, ActionAid is training mums in communities to make reusable, low-cost sanitary towels for the poorest girls. These simple sanitary pads are changing lives.

Before, girls who couldn’t afford sanitary pads felt unable to go to school because they were teased by boys if their clothes became stained. Now, not only are girls able to stay in school, but their mums are also building long-term businesses by selling their extra products at the market. This provides the mums with more opportunities to earn an income and support their families. 

World Menstrual Hygiene Day 

World Menstrual Hygiene Day takes place on 28 May every year. By breaking the silence around periods, and the shame and stigma often associated with them, it raises awareness of the importance of menstrual hygiene in helping women and girls reach their full potential. 

Period taboos affect women and girls all over the world. Our YouGov poll in 2016 showed that in the UK, two thirds of women who’ve taken sick leave because of their period were too embarrassed to give the real reason that they couldn’t go to work. In 2016, we marked World Menstrual Hygiene Day by challenging period taboos that hold girls back across the world, through spoof ‘period posters’ that highlight myths surrounding periods

You may also be interested in…

How access to sanitary products and safe toilets helps keep girls in schools

Read our latest blogs about periods.

Read about our work busting period taboos at Latitude Festival.