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Period Equality and the Pandemic UK

Irise / Period Equality and the Pandemic UK

Experiences of menstruation in high income countries: A systematic review

A new study, co-authored by Irise and academics at The University of Western Australia, Burnet Institute and The University of Leeds reviewed 3800 people’s experiences of periods. They found that women experience a mental burden that affects their relationships and ability to participate in employment and education, as well as sport and religious activities because of their periods.

Cultural beliefs and the shame and secrecy that surround periods contributed to the challenges, as did struggling to access menstrual products and barriers receiving support from healthcare workers. Many seeking help for a menstrual disorder described being dismissed by healthcare workers or being told their pain was normal. However, a positive interaction, where support was received, greatly improved women’s experiences. 

Young and Female: The Double Disadvantage

“Most worrying is their sense of hopelessness and despair – they do not feel heard and they are losing hope that meaningful help or change is possible.”

This report outlines the key challenges facing young women today as a result of the pandemic under Irise’s Period Equality Framework:

  • Economic Empowerment: Young women are experiencing increasing financial insecurity, impacting their mental health and wellbeing.
  • Leadership and Voice: Many young women feel disillusioned and do not believe any pandemic response could have met their specific needs.
  • Sanitation, Hygiene and Menstrual Materials: Those experiencing increasing financial insecurity are facing increased hardship accessing menstrual materials
  • Access to Education: University students feel neglected from the pandemic response and parents have struggled to meet the demands of home learning particularly for parents and students facing digital exclusion and language barriers.
  • Reproductive Health: Young women report worsened menstrual experiences and increasing levels of powerlessness over their bodies.
  • Mental Health and Wellbeing: Nearly all respondents faced deteriorating mental health with young women markedly impacted due to an increase in unpaid care work.
  • Safety: Many young women to feel frustrated that government guidance does not incorporate their gender-specific needs.

Across the board, young people have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic in the UK. Young women and particularly young women who already faced disadvantage are bearing the brunt the socioeconomic consequences of the pandemic.

The Empower Period Forum

The Empower Period Forum is a youth-led initiative passionate about ending period poverty and shame in the UK. The Forum are building a national advocacy campaign focused on realising period equality in line with the government’s original target of ending period poverty and shame in the UK by 2025. 

The Forum centres young people leadership, diversity and lived experience. The Empower Period Forum set out to capture the diversity of experience of period poverty and shame, menstrual health issues and related challenges among young people in the UK and enable their voice and leadership through participation in the Forum and its campaigns and consultations.

Leading the way to period equality in the UK

We’re passionate about ensuring young people in the UK have the tools to lead and the voices of those with lived experience are centred in the movement for period equality. With young women being disproportionally hit by the pandemic, Irise has facilitated the Empower Period Forum to deliver a national campaign that will end period poverty and shame. After months of consultations with young people and inspired by the findings of the Young and Female report, young people in the Irise community have come together to build The Pledge for Period Equality. This campaign aims to end the cycle of disadvantage by asking government, healthcare and education providers and charities working with young people to support the principles of The Pledge for Period Equality Manifesto in their work and increase access to high quality menstrual health education and supportive health services.