Skip to main content
A Magazine for Sheffield

Why we’re fighting for a Period Proud South Yorkshire

Lack of information and period poverty can lead to feelings of shame around menstruation. But young people in South Yorkshire are fighting the stigma. 

Young black woman holding a menstrual cup with flowers in it.
Sora Shimazaki

Pride: the opposite of shame.

Shame is something a lot of us have come to associate with our periods. From hiding tampons up our sleeves and sneaking them into the bathroom, to whacking the noisy hand-dryer at school before entering a cubicle to cover up the sound of a pad being unwrapped, hiding periods has become second nature to the vast majority of those who experience them, particularly those still in school.

The reality is, however, periods are a normal bodily function - indeed, a sign of a healthy body. They shouldn’t be treated as something momentous, or something to hide. Instead, we should regard them as what they really are: normal.

Shame does enough damage on its own, but it’s even worse when it comes along with ignorance, which it so often does. It’s one thing for teenagers to be too ashamed to openly discuss periods - but what about parents, or teachers? Those we rely on to give us an accurate, helpful education, at a time where we feel so lost.

To get your period and have next to no information on how to deal with it is terrifying. It is even more terrifying when the stigma surrounding menstruation means you can’t discuss it with your friends, family, or any trusted adult in your life.

I vividly remember lying awake at night at the age of 12, hoping and praying my period would miraculously never arrive. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. I got my period at 13, and I’m glad I got it out of the way.)

Why was I so terrified? One word: ignorance. I hadn’t received a proper education on periods, and so I was petrified, envisioning endless streams of blood, immobilising me on the sofa for a week straight. I admit, it was hard to focus on the very brief period education I did receive, because as my male teacher graphically described what a period entailed, the girl sitting behind me threw up on the back of my chair (true story!), so I was understandably distracted…

One thing I do remember, however, was him telling the class, “you have two options: pads or tampons.” That isn’t even true! And that’s just one of the ways in which we are misled about periods in school. I also thought periods were just another part of puberty that ended when you entered adulthood. Imagine my horror upon learning they extended well into middle age!

A group of young people in the Peace Gardens in Sheffield hold up handmade signs saying things like End Period Poverty and Period Stigma Holds Girls Back.

Period Proud South Yorkshire

Irise International

While you might be laughing at these unfortunate stories, there’s nothing funny about the abysmal state of most schools when it comes to the menstrual education and resources they provide. It’s very rare to find a well-stocked box of period products in a bathroom (especially in secondary schools, where even soap and toilet roll are precious commodities). And if there are products, they are always disposable ones.

It’s often thought that only disposable pads and tampons are provided because they’re less daunting for those who are new to menstruating, but realistically, they are trickier to get the hang of. Granted, menstrual cups take some getting used to, but cloth pads and period pants are just as easy to use as pads and tampons - if not moreso! Not to mention how comparatively fantastic they are for the environment - it’s estimated that an average 500 million period products end up in landfill every month.

But periods aren’t something we can choose to avoid, so rather than using this as an excuse for more stigma and shame, we should be investigating how to deal with them more efficiently - and reusable products are a brilliant alternative. Schools educating students on options beyond tampons and pads, and providing them free of charge as they (usually!) do toilet roll, would be a huge step forward.

It is crucial that we take action towards becoming a Period Proud South Yorkshire, and I believe this action should be youth-led.

Why? Put simply, young people are our future.

Stigma and shame are learnt, ingrained mindsets, not inherent ones, and young people have had less time to develop these habits. They are, as a result, more likely to be open-minded and inclusive when it comes to discussing periods freely.

But don’t let this put you off if you’re no longer a young adult - we need everyone we can to take action. Action is what makes change happen, and change is what we demand.

by Lucy Lawton (she/her)

More Equality & Social Justice

Can Sheffield end new HIV transmissions by 2030?

In anticipation of next week’s Festival of Debate panel, Rei Takver speaks with Sheffield doctor and HIV specialist Dr Claire Dewsnap about what the city still needs to do to tackle the virus.

More Equality & Social Justice