Let’s Talk. Period: 5 Key Learnings

Brook’s Let’s Talk. Period project launched in October 2018, working to tackle period poverty in 7 areas across England. Education Manager, Ruby Stevenson, highlights our 5 key takeaways from this essential work.

For the last 18 months, Brook has been running the Let’s Talk. Period project in partnership with Plan International UK to tackle period poverty within the UK. The project was funded by the Tampon Tax Fund, through the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Let’s Talk. Period has been all about fighting period poverty and promoting period positivity to tackle the shame and stigma many feel when it comes to periods. We did this by educating young people about the menstrual cycle, their bodies, and different period products, as well as regularly giving out a range of free period products to those experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, period poverty.

The LTP project took place in 7 areas across England, and nationally we have provided 11,500 young people with education and products. We’re incredibly proud of the work we’ve achieved with some of the most vulnerable young people in our society.

Through engaging with Brook, we saw a significant decrease in young people using makeshift methods to manage their periods (toilet roll, socks etc.), with many young people reporting they were missing less school as a result of the LTP project.

Here are 5 key learnings from the project:

1.     Myth and taboo are a huge contributor to shame and stigma

Many keep their periods a secret because of the negativity that surrounds periods, and we found a wide range of misunderstandings about product use changing your body, such as the myth that using tampons ‘takes your virginity’. Our education sessions also brought up young people’s insecurities about their vulva appearance and we were able to bust myths about what’s ‘normal’; encouraging young people to feel confident in their own skin. By the end of the project, significantly fewer young people felt periods were smelly or made them feel dirty. We also saw a large increase in the number of young people who now know where to go to ask for support.

2.     Schools have a duty to be more period positive

Many schools are wanting to learn about how to be more period positive – we held 21 professionals training sessions throughout the project, but with almost 70% of girls not being allowed to go to the toilet during school lesson times, there’s still a long way to go. We welcome the DfE’s commitment to provide free products in schools, but want to continue to provide education to students and training to staff, to ensure a positive environment is created within every school.

3.     Education needs to include all genders

LTP focussed on working with young women, girls, and people who menstruate. Throughout the project we reshaped the language used around menstruation, moving away from the assumption that only ‘women bleed’ to include trans, non-binary, and intersex folks. But we want to go further with this – to truly eradicate shame and stigma, those who don’t menstruate also need to be receiving education.

Many young men we spoke to had received little/no period education, and this can lead to some pretty wild misunderstandings. One young man we spoke to in Cornwall thought that you had to line the ENTIRE inside of your underwear with pads while you’re bleeding, like a big nappy! He simply hadn’t had access to a space where he could ask these questions before, and we want to provide this space.

4.     Sustainable products are in high demand

Throughout the project, we offered a wide range of products, as we recognise everyone has different needs. We were delighted to see how many young people asked questions about environmental impacts, and wanted to learn about sustainable period products. We designed a new period education session about the environment, and offered menstrual cups, period pants, and reusable tampon applicators to young people. We handed out over 300 menstrual cups – far more than we were expecting.

5.     Education is the driving force for change

Distributing free products is incredibly important, but without meaningful education we won’t see change at a societal level. There are huge gaps in knowledge, with even the teachers we’ve worked having gaps in their knowledge, and we are committed to continue providing a tailored education approach for young people.

Throughout this project, we’ve seen period poverty rise up the national agenda. What started as a youth-lead grassroots campaign now has global attention.

We’ve seen a dramatic shift in the level of engagement from government, fellow organisations, and young people when it comes to period poverty, with more of us committed to providing period friendly environments for all, and we’re excited to see how this develops.

I want to thank our amazing Brook team, who have worked so hard to deliver education and products to those most in need, as well as our partners at Plan International UK. I’m incredibly proud to have worked on this project, and look forward to seeing how the period positivity continues.

Research gathered from the Evaluation Report conducted by MEL Research, which will be available in April.

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