THE Telegraph & Argus recently highlighted the plight of families in Bradford who rely on a food bank for weekly handouts, but it's not just putting a meal on the table that many people struggle with.

If you were asked where 137,700 schoolgirls are regularly missing school due to not being able to afford sanitary items, chances are you wouldn't think it was the UK.

Yet in this country, period poverty is a huge problem, which is not being spoken about. Singer and Britain's Got Talent judge Alesha Dixon has teamed up with Always and the brand’s #EndPeriodPoverty campaign which highlights an issue that remains a stigma.

The ugly truth is that many girls and young women in the UK simply can't afford sanitary products. According to Always, thousands of girls are missing school on a regular basis because of this, and parents are going without or resorting to stealing to provide for their daughters. The crisis causes confidence to plummet during puberty, and girls miss out on lessons and other experiences of school.

Research by Always shows that women who have experienced period poverty are more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression, struggle to pay bills and have an unfulfilling love life.

“We don’t particularly like to talk about periods,” says Alesha, who has a young daughter. “But there’s something quite cool about normalising it.

“My nan’s generation was brought up in a time when children were expected to keep quiet and not discuss personal things like periods. We now live in a time where sharing is normal - in fact we probably overshare - and that can be a really positive thing if it’s used in the right way.”

It's only in recent years that period poverty has been talked about. Despite being a perfectly normal biological process, periods have historically been linked with shame. “I’ve been speaking to a lot of girls at schools who say they’re embarrassed and don’t want the boys to mock them. Some don’t even like carrying sanitary products in their rucksacks because the boys laugh when they see them,” says Alesha. “It’s very juvenile, but it’s just a fact.”

Other than an immature response to something most women go through every month, it’s clear many boys are woefully uneducated about periods. “It’s about bringing boys into the conversation, because they need to be more sensitive and empathetic towards girls. This will help normalise it for them too," says Alesha.

Period poverty does, of course, have far wider reaching effects than embarrassing teenage girls. “We’re seeing a ripple effect,” says Alesha. “It can lead to depression and confidence issues, which then has an effect on career choices and what you do with the rest of your life.

“A lot of girls are very insecure and self-conscious, and that’s even before they’ve come across period poverty. You can only imagine what it’s like for a girl who has to skip school - they become vulnerable and maybe end up being bullied.

“This can snowball into a lack of interest in their education, the after-effects of which are quite devastating. Some girls end up being homeless, and to even further extremes, some end up taking their own life. It’s a hard-hitting subject, but it’s really good to be talking about it.”

“A lot of people are embarrassed, so are suffering alone and in silence,” adds Alesha. “If people are encouraged to ask for help and speak out, then that would be brilliant.”

She thinks changes in the education system would make a difference too. “When you’re at school, all the focus is on your grades,” she says. “But if we want young girls to leave school as well-rounded human beings, we have to pay attention to their mental state as well as the academic side of things.

“This issue affects people who are struggling. In the same respect you can get free school meals if you’re from a low income family, why can’t we put something in place for period poverty? I can’t believe that isn’t the norm.”

For girls affected, Alesha says: “Hold your head up high, and if a boy sees a sanitary product in your bag you should just tell him: ‘If it wasn’t for a period you wouldn’t be here, so get over it and grow up'."

She has also teamed up with Always to help girls on a practical level - the brand has already donated five million sanitary pads, and hope to donate a further five million more to schools across the country.

With Always’ #EndPeriodPoverty campaign, for every pack sold by September 16, Always will donate a pad to schoolgirls in need.

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