One fifth (19%) of boys in Australia think periods should be kept secret, according to a survey by charity for girls’ equality Plan International Australia.
When it comes to their counterparts globally, more than one in three boys (37%) think periods should be kept a secret. In a survey of 4,127 boys and young men from Brazil, Indonesia, the Netherlands and Uganda, the most common reason cited for avoiding the topic was that menstruation is a ‘private matter’.
In Indonesia, more than half (58%) of those surveyed do not think girls and women can go to school or work while menstruating, or visit a place of worship (73%). In Uganda, more than half (55%) of respondents said they do not think it is acceptable for a girl to remain unmarried after her first period.
Plan International, a leading girls’ rights NGO which works to improve menstrual health around the world, says the results expose deep-rooted taboos around discussing menstruation with far-reaching consequences for girls’ health and wellbeing.
The survey, which focused on male attitudes towards periods, also revealed that Australian boys are not receiving adequate education about periods, leading to misinformation and increased stigma associated with menstruation, with the charity calling for greater – and earlier – education about periods in schools.
Close to half (49%) of Australian respondents said their education on periods was poor or non-existent and just under one third (32%) said that talking about periods made them feel uncomfortable, increasing to 53% in the youngest respondents aged 16-18 years.
When asked what words they associate with periods, almost three-in-five (58%) said ‘messy’, while almost a quarter (23%) said ‘embarrassing’ and ‘dirty’. In addition, more than four in 10 said they have also witnessed bullying around periods.
Almost 15% of those surveyed believe periods are “impure”, and over four in 10 boys and young men said they had witnessed another man making a negative comment to a girl about her period.
“I feel uncomfortable talking about something that I do not fully understand,” said an 18-year-old boy from South Australia, while a 19-year old boy from Victoria said he was uncomfortable “because I am not a woman and male involvement with this topic is usually seen as perverted and unnecessary.” “I go to an all-boys school – it is not a topic that is brought up,” said a 16-year-old from NSW.
These beliefs and attitudes can have can have a profound impact on a girls’ wellbeing and educational opportunities. A significant percentage of young Australian people who menstruate – especially those for the first time – are afraid of being teased about their periods.
Research last year found almost a third of Australian girls aged 10-14 are missing school because they’re embarrassed about their periods, while almost half of those aged 10-18 said they were afraid of being teased.
While these findings are cause for concern, they also reveal a solution – the need for earlier and better education about periods for young men. The polling revealed that 70% of those who described their school education on periods as ‘good’ also said they felt very comfortable discussing periods.
This demonstrates that educating boys on menstrual health can have a positive impact on ending period shame and stigma, and normalising periods from a younger age. Some of the words these boys associate with menstruation are “natural” and “healthy”.
“Girls are missing school, being bullied and dealing with distress – all because we are not talking enough about periods, particularly with boys,” said Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena.
“While gender inequality may disproportionately affect women and girls, it also directly impacts men and boys too. No boy should feel he has to live up to a certain image or behaviour, to fulfil the stereotype of what it means to be a man.”
“Addressing the unique barriers and challenges that prevent girls and women from reaching their full potential, such as period shame and taboos, is one of the most effective ways to create gender equality for all people around the world.”
The studies were conducted in the run-up to Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28, a day dedicated to breaking taboos and stigma around menstruation.
About the surveys
Global survey: A survey of 4,127 boys and young men from Brazil, Indonesia, the Netherlands and Uganda was carried out on behalf of Plan International by Geopoll. For more information, please see Plan International’s Bloody Honest report.
Australian survey: YouGov conducted this poll with a nationally representative online sample of 316 male Australian residents aged 16-21 between 11-20 August 2021. The theoretical margin of error is ±5.5 percentage points. Due to rounding, totals for results may not add to 100.
About Plan International Australia’s menstrual health work
Put simply, we’re the charity for girls’ equality. We tackle the root causes of poverty, support communities through crises, campaign for gender equality, and help governments do what’s right for children and particularly for girls. We believe a better world is possible. An equal world; a world where all children can live happy and healthy lives, and where girls can take their rightful place as equals.
Plan International’s WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) experts work in over 80 countries distributing menstrual hygiene materials and teaching young people about the menstrual cycle. Together with local governments and schools, Plan International also trains district health workers, teachers and volunteers to educate young people about periods and talk about them in a shame-free, positive way.
In Ghana, Plan International has set up a health club focused on menstrual health and management at the school of 13-year-old Cephas. He discovered many of the things he had been told about periods were wrong and is now helping to end period stigma by helping with the distribution of menstrual health products and leading a health campaign that is challenging the taboos about periods.
“It is my dream to see boys and men embracing the thought that menstruation is a natural occurrence in the lives of women and girls and not to be seen as unclean. After learning so much from the health club, I feel bad about how I have treated my sisters,” he said.
Plan International Australia is currently distributing dignity kits to communities in need all around the world. A Dignity Kit has all of the essentials people who menstruate need to manage their periods during a crisis. The kit includes menstrual pads, body soap, washing soap for clothes, toothbrushes, shampoo and toilet paper. You can pay it forward and purchase a dignity kit, which will help a girl manage her period, here
For interviews and further information, contact media advisor Claire Knox, 0452 326 549 / [email protected]