Millions of women and people who menstruate in the UK can’t easily access the products, education, and support they need to manage their menstrual health and wellbeing, according to a new report released this week by UK charity In Kind Direct.

In the first in-depth review of the state of period equity in the UK, the report reveals the extent to which challenges and stigma persist within education settings and the workplace, and the true cost of this issue to the nation’s economy: a staggering £3.25 billion every year, through lost days of work.

Almost 1 in 5 people (19%) who have periods say they miss work with most or every period, because of symptoms affecting physical and mental health, and lack of access to products or facilities at work.

Worries around leaking or feeling embarrassed to ask for help are hindering employees’ ability to work, with 70% of those surveyed saying they felt limited in the amount or type of work they could do because of their period.

Period inequity refers to the systemic disparities, discrimination, and challenges that individuals face in accessing menstrual hygiene products, education, and healthcare — but it also relates to the stigma and social exclusion that people experience due to menstruation. Research shows this is still a major issue in education settings and within the workplace, with stigma often the cause for people not speaking out or reaching out for support.

Findings from the survey showed that period stigma was more common for young people and Asian or Asian British people, with more than 1 in 5 (21%) people who are Asian or Asian British saying they had been discouraged from speaking about their period in front of others.

In the workplace, employees are not feeling comfortable enough to work efficiently or to their full capacity when they have a period, but also feel anxious and unsupported. Currently 1 in 8 (13%) don’t have suitable facilities to change products at work and fewer than 1 in 3 workers who have periods feel their employer is supportive of their menstrual health.

The report, which surveyed over 5,000 participants, revealed that more than half (51%) of those in work said they felt pressured to work even when feeling unwell or in pain from their period, with only 20% feeling that their employer would support them taking time off for menstrual health.

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Some of the key symptoms (that rarely exist in isolation) affecting workers:

  • Heavy flow (61%)
  • Period pain (67%)
  • Mental health impacts (26%)
  • Menstrual health conditions (18%)
  • Feeling ashamed or embarrassed (12%)
  • Not having the right facilities (14%) or product (6%) to manage a period.

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The report has highlighted the need for proactive and inclusive policies to help people manage their menstrual health and wellbeing, and the importance of period education at all ages.

Women who had attended workshops as adults spoke about how they helped normalise periods, taught them how to recognise what may be cause for concern, and increased their confidence to speak openly about their periods.

How can businesses create more period-inclusive workplaces?

The report urges businesses to take swift action to embed period equity across all workplace policies, and use existing resources to create more period-inclusive workplaces. For example, by adopting the BSI Standards guidance for menstruation, menstrual health, and menopause in the workplace, and developing partnerships with third sector organisations delivering services to communities.

UK charity Bloody Good Period has set up Bloody Good Employers, an initiative that aims to ensure fairer, safer workplaces for all people who menstruate, and offering support and education for employers who are committed to promoting equality and diversity. It includes a four-step accreditation programme to help guide employers towards a more inclusive culture through communications and policies.

Other initiatives such as England’s 10-year Women’s Health Strategy is helping to tackle period inequity, providing opportunities to address menstrual health across the life course and break intergenerational cycles of misinformation and shame.

What’s emerging through the research is that cycles of exclusion caused by period inequity begin at school, and continue into the workplace and beyond. Cross-sector action is essential to tackling the issue, and needs to involve government, schools, charities, community groups, businesses and organisations.

ITN Business’ upcoming programme Women’s Health: The Future We Deserve

Launching this International Women’s Day, 8th March 2024, is ‘Women’s Health: The Future We Deserve’, a news-style programme anchored by veteran broadcaster Louise Minchin from the ITN London studio.

The programme will showcase organisations and individuals that are actively working to challenge assumptions, positively address women’s health issues, close the gender health gap, and improve health outcomes for women.