As new research suggests the impact of period poverty can last long into a woman’s life, Alesha Dixon pens an open letter for stylist.co.uk about the power of conversation - and how small talk could create a big change
“The campaign to end period poverty is important to me for so many different reason. Hearing that 137,000 girls are regularly missing school because they can’t afford sanitary protection doesn’t sit comfortably with me. It’s just not right that in 2018 we have young girls who are suffering alone, or parents who are resorting to stealing products. It’s ludicrous and it’s not fair.
Teenagers are in the most awkward phase of their life; their bodies are changing and they’re lacking in confidence, and the one thing they really don’t need is the extra stress of not being able to take care of their basic needs. I know it’s not the most glamorous subject to talk about; I went into a school a couple of weeks ago and some of the girls who aren’t even experiencing period poverty were just embarrassed about having sanitary products in their rucksacks out of fear the boys would take the micky out of them.
One thing I came away with was that a lot of girls keep these things to themselves, which is interesting because I feel like we’re living in a time now where people overshare a lot and are very transparent. But when it comes to periods, people are really personal about them, because they are a personal thing, especially at that age.
But I’ve learned over the past couple of weeks that when we start talking about periods, it helps normalise them, and takes away the stigma so that they’re no longer a taboo. It would be such a positive step forward if we can have this open conversation where the public become more aware of the issue, and young girls feel more confident to ask for help.
A lot of good steps have been made but we also need to think about the ripple effect of what happens long-term to young girls who experience period poverty. The lack of confidence and low self-esteem can lead to depression, and some girls are being bullied because people at school are taking the micky out of them, and of course that will affect things that are happening in their lives; whether that’s getting into unhealthy relationships, or making bad choices, or missing out on opportunities. It’s not just as simple as someone saying ‘oh I can’t afford sanitary products’ – it impacts on the rest of their lives as well.
I think schools should have a responsibility to make sure that students become healthy, well-rounded human beings. It’s not just about getting straight A’s in maths; it’s also about hygiene, health and mental state. The reality that we are living in is that teenagers are vulnerable and at that age they really need our help and support.
There are things that we can all do, on a practical level, to help as well. It would be brilliant if women could start having this conversation with each other, and for parents to talk to their children more openly about it, too. I’m such a believer in conversation because I think that by keeping things in the dark, and sweeping things under the rug, we won’t solve anything. But by putting the light on and talking about it, we can start to heal and find a resolution to the problem. Part of my job is to shout about this as loud as I possibly can so people become aware of it, and there are incredible organisations as well as Always out there working really hard to make sure this isn’t an issue in the future.
I think this is a big issue with a very simple solution; it would be lovely if there was a system in schools that meant children from low income families, who are struggling, can turn to a nurse in confidence and get the products that they need. In the grand scheme of things this doesn’t seem like a huge mountain to climb but at the same time the only way to get to that place, and that point, is if people become more aware of the issue. So let’s make a lot of noise about this.
My message for anyone who is suffering right now would be to please speak out! Don’t keep it to yourself – whether it’s turning to a teacher, or a friend, let it be known. Don’t ever feel like you can’t ask for help because every woman will know what you’re going through and will help you.
And to any girl or woman out there who is lacking in confidence or is embarrassed to talk about periods or ask for help – don’t be. Be proud to be a girl. If it wasn’t for periods, none of us would even be here, and we need to start owning that in a very powerful way rather than shying away from what makes us unique. It sounds ludicrous to say it but I think we need to find some humour in it too – we’ve got to find a way to not take it too seriously because it’s so normal. We need to be really sensible and rational with the way we think about periods and change our attitudes towards them, once and for all.”
Alesha is an ambassador for Always. She says: “Always are doing a brilliant job, they’ve already donated 5 million pads and the intention is to donate another 5 million pads. They’re also working with The Red Box Project, who take boxes of sanitary products directly into schools around the country.”
Images: Unsplash, Erol Ahmed, Getty
As told to Sarah Biddlecombe