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Column: '61% of girls my age are embarrassed about their period'

For as long as I can remember, periods were something that could only be discussed in whispers, writes Niamh Dunne.

Niamh Dunne Media and politics student

PERIOD. A NATURAL bodily function that half the world’s population must endure. But why are we as women shamed on speaking about the topic?

For as long as I can remember, periods were something that could only be discussed in whispers or in closed conversations with only female relatives or friends. In fact 61% of girls my age are embarrassed about their period.

Education

Plan International Ireland, for whom I am a youth ambassador and offer advice from a young person’s perspective, surveyed 1100 girls aged 12 -19+ asking questions about periods.

One statistic that related to me as a 21-year-old woman, was the fact that 1 in 2 girls found that schools were unhelpful in educating and assisting girls with their periods.

From my experience in school, I was given little information in regards to menstruation. Even as I progressed into secondary education the only valuable information I received was from my Leaving Cert Biology class.

While schools are not seen as helpful in regards to education on periods, they also don’t seem to be dispelling embarrassment or stigma.

Feeling uncomfortable

The survey revealed that if a girl was feeling unwell as a result of her period, she would not feel comfortable discussing this with school teachers despite the fact that 61% have missed school as a direct result of their period and a staggering 88% feel less able to pay attention.

Some of the myths from the survey that also really shocked me were 84 respondents to the survey believed it wasn’t possible to get pregnant while on their period and 79 respondents believed they could lose their virginity to a tampon.

Introducing better methods in which to educate young people on periods will help in destabilising stigma as well as dispelling any myths that could potentially have life altering consequences. If boys and girls are both taught about periods, girls are less likely to feel as though they should be ashamed of a bodily function.

Period poverty

You can’t discuss the stigma surrounding periods without talking about period poverty.

The survey showed how 50% of girls have struggled at one point in their life to buy sanitary products. As someone who has lives in a middle class suburb, I have been lucky enough not to struggle with this but it only highlights how ignorant I have been.

Periods remain a topic that is grossly underfunded globally and often left off the global agenda despite its importance for many aspects of women and girls’ lives. Decades of global experience from Plan International shows that due to their gender and their age, adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to having their rights denied.

Girls are not only feeling unsafe in schools, on the streets and online, but their education, career choices and ability to be heard are also being negatively impacted. Women across the country and more in countries such as Kenya, India and Malawi are struggling with period poverty and it is a topic that needs to be discussed more in our society.

Dispel the stigma

We need to dispel the stigma of women talking about their periods, both here in Ireland but also globally, especially if half of the girls Plan International Ireland spoke to nationwide cannot afford products for their periods.

We need to talk. Period.

Niamh Dunne is a 21-year-old Media Studies and Politics student at DCU from Meath. She has a keen interest in current affairs and politics and has worked on the news programme at DCUfm. Niamh is a member of Plan International Ireland’s Youth Advisory Panel where she advises, represents and champions the child, especially girl’s, rights organisation from a young person’s perspective.

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About the author:

Niamh Dunne  / Media and politics student

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