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Period poverty: Fifth of youths in Medway say friend missed school due to lack of access to sanitary products

By Dean Kilpatrick, local democracy reporter

Nearly one in five young people in Medway know someone who has missed school because of a lack of access to sanitary products, new research has found.

Of 185 teenagers surveyed by Medway Council’s public health team, 36 had heard of girls missing class because they did not have the right feminine hygiene products for their periods.

Nearly one in three said fellow classmates have had problems with affording menstrual items.

One in five pupils claim they know someone who has missed school because they could not access sanitary products. Picture: Getty Images
One in five pupils claim they know someone who has missed school because they could not access sanitary products. Picture: Getty Images

The issue was discussed at yesterday’s health and wellbeing board meeting (September 11), after a motion which could have seen free tampons and sanitary towels issued to eligible school girls was voted down by full council in April.

The authority suggests the “prevalence of period poverty in Medway is significantly lower than national studies”, but accepts there are some who do not know where to go for support.

Senior public health manager James Harman said: “There is a good amount of engagement in this agenda across Medway, and talking to a number of people – whether it be professionals or young people – they are very clear they are doing quite a lot of work towards it.

“I think there is a realisation that it could be more co-ordinated and there could maybe be some more awareness raising, but there are already methods in place across a number of settings to support this particular agenda.”

Free sanitary products are available at Medway Early Help Hubs, at food banks, as well as at many secondary schools through a charity initiative.

Cllr Vince Maple (Lab) called for more action to be taken, asking the authority to request all schools have sanitary towels and tampons in its toilets within 28 days – something which was rejected by other members of the board.

He said: “We should recognise the system is not working, and a charity has had to step in and do the work that is needed. We know it is needed because people are using their services.

“This is a massive issue for Medway – not just for Medway, but the whole country – and we know councils in Scotland, London and other places have taken a really proactive step on this."

“We should recognise the system is not working, and a charity has had to step in and do the work that is needed..." - Cllr Vince Maple

He added the council could be "at the forefront in the South East" on the issue by helping girls avoid "that embarrassing situation which currently happens on a far too regular basis".

Director of public health James Williams said the area’s academy system made it difficult to directly intervene, but said schools engaged during the research were already providing sanitary products upon request.

He added: “We will do an additional piece of work to identify the areas where there are gaps (people knowing about available services), and I think we can focus on those areas as opposed to working to do things that might not reach the people we want to reach out to in the first place.”

The board agreed a number of ways to improve the situation, with education and communication for both youngsters and adults being the main focus.

Dr Antonia Moore from NHS Medway Clinical Commissioning Group said: “There is significant ignorance amongst parents, particularly around female genitals.

“That is an extraordinary thing to say, but people don’t know what the bits of their genitals are called.

“Parents don’t know even basic things like that, so if you haven’t even got the right word to describe what you’re talking about, it’s very difficult to get that communication right."

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