More than 40,000 people have signed a petition calling on the government to help girls who are skipping school when they're on their periods because they cannot afford sanitary products.
One girl in Leeds, speaking after a concerned police officer working in a school there noticed a pattern in some girls' truancy, told BuzzFeed News she had missed weeks of school as a result. "I’d support myself without having to ask," she explained as she described using socks and tissues instead of sanitary products.
"You don’t want to be a burden on your parents and say, ‘Hey Mum, can you buy some pads,’ because you feel like she has other priorities so it’s not really something you want to go talk about."
"I woke up feeling really angry about it," said 29-year-old Zoe Wilde, who set up the Change.org petition last Wednesday – which has now been signed by more than 40,000 people.
"Period poverty is usually thought of as about homeless women," she told BuzzFeed News. "It was such a shock to realise that this was going on in schools because you think that schools have provisions to give these things out to kids and it just turns out they're not.
"Sometimes you get really great teachers who are paying for this stuff out of their own pockets, but I guess with austerity schools have no money, and buying these kinds of things is just not a priority for them at the moment."
Wilde, who is based in London, said after the petition had gone up, a lot of smaller organisations had been in touch, offering to help distribute and raise awareness.
She said she was especially affected after her friend Hannah Morrison said she had experienced similar difficulties growing up.
"I felt too guilty to ask my mum for money," Morrisson wrote. "I knew we didn't have much money, and I also knew how expensive they were.
"They said that I could buy sanitary products in the bathrooms, but my maintenance allowance (EMA) was spent on ensuring I was able to eat. When I became really desperate I would save my lunch money to buy them instead of eating."
Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North West Greg Mulholland raised the issue in parliament on Monday. "It’s deeply shocking in the 21st century that girls, including in Leeds, are not going to school because they can’t afford sanitary products,” he told the Commons.
In response to Mulholland's question, education minister Justine Greening said she would "carefully" examine the issue.
But a spokesperson for the Department for Education told BuzzFeed News her comments did not indicate a shift or an announcement.
Labour MP Paula Sherriff, who has campaigned on period poverty and condemned the "horrendous" choices facing some girls last week, has requested a debate on the subject.
Meanwhile, one of the UK's leading brands of sanitary products, Bodyform, said it would donate 200,000 pads over the coming two years, working with the Prince's Trust's charity In Kind Direct.
The charity plans to distribute the products to local schools, as well as youth care groups and centres and Girl Guides. CEO Robin Boles said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that the stigma attached to menstruation meant the problem could be "just the tip of the iceberg".
Rose Troup Buchanan is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Rose Troup Buchanan at Rose.Buchanan@BuzzFeed.com.
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