Lancashire’s top health official is to investigate what can be done to alleviate so-called “period poverty” amongst schoolgirls in the county.
Director of Public Health, Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, has been asked to explore the extent of the problem and whether free sanitary products should be made available for pupils in Lancashire County Council’s schools.
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The move follows a debate in county hall, called by Labour councillor Nikki Hennessy, who told a meeting of the full council about her own personal experience back in the 1970s.
Warning members that she did not give “two hoots” if any of them felt uncomfortable listening to her story, County Cllr Hennessy said that memories of what happened to her in a maths class still haunt her to this day.
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“The pain was excruciating. I must have been about 12 and I was worried sick in case I was making a mess of my uniform,” she recalled.
“I was quite shy and for me to raise my hand and say, ‘please, sir, can I go the toilet?’ was a big thing.
“He let me out – but that was the easy bit. The hard part was when I got to the toilet.
“It was a bloody mess and I did what hundreds of thousands of other girls did then and still do now – I made do with toilet tissue. It was just awful.”
Asking members to support a motion calling for Lancashire to follow the lead of the Scottish government and introduce free sanitary protection at the county’s schools, County Cllr Hennessey added: “For the very poorest girls, even a few pounds every month is unaffordable.”
Research by the charity Plan International reveals that 10 percent of young women in the UK, aged between 14 and 21, have been unable to afford sanitary products at some point in their lives.
Cabinet member for health, Shaun Turner, told the meeting that various projects were already tackling the issue in the region, but that they were “piecemeal and need joining up”.
Councillors then supported an amended motion requesting a report on the issue from Lancashire’s director of public health to be presented to the authority’s health scrutiny committee. The county council also committed to consulting “girls, schools, universities and the NHS to raise awareness and tackle stigma”.
The meeting also heard a plea from County Cllr Margaret Pattison that there be “no repeat today of the cruel hardship” which she and her twin sister faced when they had just started secondary school.
“Times were hard and the last thing our Mum could afford was expensive sanitary cover. The hidden embarrassment of having to use Izal toilet paper out of the school toilet or old socks was a nightmare,” she said.