Empowering Girls: The Importance of Early Period Education By Madison Collier

Empowering Girls: The Importance of Early Period Education By Madison Collier

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For many people, having an awareness of what is happening in their body and why, is the key to reduced anxiety and better health practises. This is what Laura Wershler had in mind when she coined the term ‘body literacy,’ which relates to the observing, charting, and interpretation of one’s period, with the aim of better understanding how health and wellness is connected to the menstrual cycle.

Unfortunately, early menstrual education is not nearly as effective as it needs to be to achieve body literacy. Research by Poppy Taylor in 2021 revealed that period education was missing for 10% of study participants, and for those who did receive some period education, 20% received it after their period had begun. When education was present, it was usually delivered by teachers who split the classes by gender and appeared uncomfortable at the time of teaching, adding to a culture of secrecy and shame around periods.

With the increasing school funding pressures in the UK, the quality of period education is likely to decrease for young people. But period education is not merely about making sure women know what a period is, and why the uterus sheds a lining of blood through the vagina, in cold medical terms. It is also about preventing future medical, psychological, and environmental issues that may occur as a result of poor menstrual education.

The effect on the environment

There are also environmental downsides to inadequate menstrual education. At a time when being conscious of your environmental decisions is more important than ever, it is equally more important than ever, to teach women how to properly dispose of feminine hygiene products. According to Phs Group, 2.4 million tampons are being flushed down UK toilets daily due to period shame.

FabLittleBag’s mission is to educate women on the dangers of flushing and provide a solution that maintains both privacy and dignity when binning period products, or when there is no disposal option available. FabLittleBags  are made from sugar cane, they seal shut (meaning no leaks!) and are odour-free and opaque. They can be used in any bin or put into a bag for discreet disposal at a later time. They can be ordered as a subscription so you never run out, and you can get them delivered when you need them most.

However, period education needs to be accessible to everyone – not just women – if we want to see widespread changes, such increased symptom awareness, and clean and well-maintained bins everywhere.

Who is Period Education For?

Period education needs to be prioritised for girls and young women. It needs to be delivered early –before girls start their period – so that they know what to expect, how to engage in healthy practises, and how to dispose of sanitary products safely by binning them.

However, period education is not just for girls. When young girls are educated about their period, they often take on the burden of educating those around them, such as fathers, brothers, and male schoolteachers. Period education is for everybody, but especially, for those with a duty of care to young women. Some organisations are already undertaking this job like  Freedom4Girls who are a charity who provide education and period products. However, education for all, still needs to be more widespread.

Girlguiding found that a third of girls aged 11-18 in the UK do not have access to free period products at school, despite the government’s period product scheme. With period poverty up from 12% to 21% in one year, there has never been more need for educational venues to supply young women with period products for free, and to provide them with FabLittleBags so they can responsibly dispose of their period products. If people of all genders, ages, and backgrounds were taught how crucial these resources are, girls would be missing less time at school, paying more attention in lessons and, most importantly, engaging in safe and hygienic period practises.

What Sort of Stuff Should Period Education Include?

If my own experience is anything to go by – and I was receiving period education less than a decade ago in a state-funded secondary school – menstrual education is cold, clinical, and scientific. A diagram of a uterus means nothing to a young woman who is living the experience of a period, trying to navigate a new process that they have a multitude of uncomfortable questions about. The following (inexhaustive) list suggests some things that menstrual education should cover to be more effective. And, if you are somebody who does not know much about these topics, luckily, they are covered in more detail by other bloggers in this section – happy learning!

The Colour of Menstrual Blood

It is quite normal for period blood to change colour throughout your cycle, or from cycle to cycle. But some colours can be a cause for concern – for example, orange or grey – if in conjunction with other symptoms. The nitty gritty of period blood, is something a lot of women feel too embarrassed to talk about. But, since the colour of period blood can be an indicator of bacterial infections, STIs, and anaemia, it is important to know about it and be able to talk about it! Visit here to learn more.

Easing Period Pain

While painkillers are a good go-to, it is important that women know how lifestyle choices such as not drinking enough water, drinking too much caffeine, and drinking too much alcohol, can increase period pain. Opting for a diet high in omega-3 and magnesium can relieve some physical symptoms. Visit here to learn more.

Irregular Periods

We are taught that the average menstrual cycle is 28 days long, but that is not always the case. Irregularity can simply be as a result of going through puberty, going through weight fluctuations, or going through a period of stress, but it is also a symptom of some medical conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome.

Irregular periods are usually nothing to worry about, but you should contact your GP, if you are having a period more frequently than every 21 days, or less often than every 35 days. Visit here to learn more.

Period Tracking Apps

Period tracking apps are a brilliant way to get to know your body better, from learning your average cycle length, to learning which days you are most likely to PMS or bleed the heaviest. Because it requires you to input data frequently, it forces you to consider how you have been feeling – whether your pain has been any worse than usual, whether your period is early or late – which is a great way of catching changes in symptoms early.

I think I speak for all of us when I say that we are tired of being sent away from the doctors’ having been told to “keep a period diary”. These tracking apps are a built-in period diary, right at your fingertips. For young women, MagicGirl is a brilliant option, while Clue is a popular option amongst women of all ages. For more information and options, read here.

Missed Periods

A missed period does not necessarily mean that you are pregnant. Periods can be missed due to stress, sudden weight loss, and too much exercise. If you miss a period for more than 6 weeks, it is advisable to take a pregnancy test and contact your GP.

How to Dispose of a Sanitary Product When the Bin is Absent or Unusable

FabLittleBag's mission is to convert all flushers to binners! Flushing period products causes plumbing and environmental issues, so it is crucial that we always bin our used products. I know this can be difficult – when visiting friends and family, when bathrooms do not have a bin – and that is why FabLittleBag's founder Martha, created FabLittleBags. You simply put your used pad or tampon in a FabLittleBag, and either put it straight into the bin, or put it in your bag and bin it later. Incredibly easy to use, discreet, and environmentally kind, these FabLittleBags make binning stress free and hygienic. Click here to order.

Remember knowledge is power and the more we know about our periods, the better equipped we are to manage them, go to the doctor when we need to, and normalise the conversation around them.