Personify your period, and you generate the world's worst houseguest. Sometimes arriving much earlier than expected, other times you wonder if it will visit you at all. Regardless of its time keeping, it always makes a mess and never offers to help clean up. All in all, periods are incredibly inconvenient.
So imagine, then, being unable to attend school because you've started your period. With no access to sanitary products, you have no choice but to create a DIY pad out of a sock or a wodge of tissue taped to your gusset until the bleeding has subsided. It is a shocking scenario that many may assume is an occurrence exclusive to Third World Countries, yet it is happening on our doorstep.
Freedom4Girls is a charity founded by Tina Leslie, and was originally created to provide girls in Kenya with access to sanitary products. The charity now also offers help for schoolgirls in Leeds after teachers noticed that students were playing truant on a monthly basis.
While she was aware that homeless women were accessing sanitary products through food banks, Leslie was unaware that it was a problem occurring in schools. However, she saw that it was a problem directly related to poverty, noting that "if you can't afford food, you can't afford sanitary protection".
Considering that the average woman will spend nearly £20,000 on sanitary products in her lifetime, it's no wonder that girls from low-income families, as well as homeless women, are missing out on using proper sanitary products.
It's quite hard to comprehend that sanitary products are still considered a luxury, rather than a necessity, a view that has been addressed by the University of East Anglia. Recently, the Student Union announced that they would be offering free sanitary products to students on campus, a gesture that makes me proud to be a UEA alumnus.
Talking about periods more openly could be incredibly beneficial to girls and women struggling to access proper sanitary products. As someone fortunate enough to grow up in an environment where periods were seen as a natural part of life, asking for sanitary products from friends or at the school reception was never an embarrassment. It saddens me reading stories about young girls resorting to using socks instead of sanitary products as they didn't know where else to turn.
With sex education being made compulsory in schools by 2019, hopefully menstruation will also be on the curriculum in more depth. Periods are currently discussed in PSHE, but some girls have already gone through puberty by the time it is taught to them. It also needs to go beyond biology, educating people on negotiating everyday life and where to access sanitary products during your period.
A shocking new report has found that 44% of girls who took part in the survey did not know what was happening to them the first time that they had a period. With women admitting to feelings of embarrassment and a lack of confidence talking about their periods even in later life, it's clear that something needs to change. Period positivity is on the rise, but educating people about periods from a younger age could help to eradicate these feelings of awkwardness concerning menstruation that some people experience.
It's important that this information is taught to boys and young men too. Look at social media, and you'll find Tweets and posts from uneducated teens questioning why a woman "can't just hold it in" while she's menstruating.
Earlier this year, a "vulval glue" created by a male chiropractor that claimed to "keep the blood inside" during a period was met with severe backlash as there was a clear misunderstanding of the female anatomy. There are also connotations here that periods are somewhat dirty or unclean, that we should seal ourselves up rather than bleed naturally.
There are, however, great alternative sanitary products available, from Mooncups to underwear specifically designed for free-bleeding. While there is an initial cost, these reusable products could save money in the long run while also being kinder to the environment. Contraception can also help to regulate your period, but some people dislike to idea of medicating themselves or do not want to risk the side-effects that can sometimes occur.
Periods are a natural part of life, and we should be talking about them in a more open and positive way to encourage people that have them to respect and embrace their bodies. Yes, periods can be painful and affect our moods, but they aren't something to be ashamed about.