Free period products in schools among Girlguiding requests for next government

Free period products should be available in all schools and women must be better represented in frontline politics, according to Girlguiding which has launched its requests for the next government.

Influencers and advertisers should be required to be honest about using artificial intelligence (AI) and filtering online, the list of 10 demands also states.

It comes after the organisation, which describes itself as the UK’s largest youth organisation dedicated to girls, said its annual survey last year had shown girls’ happiness levels fell to their lowest levels in 15 years.

Television presenter Ashley James with Girlguiding member Angel Scott, nine, as the UK’s largest youth organisation dedicated to girls has set out how the next government should better prioritise the needs, happiness and safety of girls and young women, London
Television presenter Ashley James with Girlguiding member Angel Scott, nine (Matt Alexander Assignments/PA)

Among the issues were concerns about appearance, with more than two-thirds (67%) of those aged between 11 and 21 having said they sometimes feel ashamed of the way they look because they are not like girls and women they see in the media and online.

More than a third (39%) of that age group stated that seeing images online where people are edited to look perfect makes them feel bad about how they look and feel.

Girlguiding said the next government must “require advertisers, brands, and influencers to make it clear when images have been filtered, edited, or created by software or artificial intelligence”.

The organisation said that while the Online Safety Act “rightly” focuses on sexually explicit deepfakes, it would like to see the legislation go “beyond the inherently harmful and criminal, towards an online environment where girls are not faced with unrealistic beauty standards”.

Presenter and model Ashley James, who starred in Made In Chelsea, said the “significant drop” in girls’ happiness “corresponds with the rise of social media and online harms – this is no coincidence”.

Lending her support to the campaign, she added: “More needs to be done to protect girls against the pressures they are facing daily – from their body image to their online presence.”

Girlguiding’s other pre-election asks include appointing a Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, rather than the current situation whereby the role exists as a ministerial post and is usually held by someone with other responsibilities.

The change would “put the wellbeing of girls and young women, and the principle of a fairer Britain, at the heart of government decision making,” Girlguiding said.

Television presenter Ashley James
Television presenter Ashley James (Matt Alexander Assignments/PA)

At least half of those on major political party frontbenches should be women, the organisation added.

Other asks include that the next government should ensure every school and college across the UK has period products available free throughout the school day, and publish “new and inclusive” Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) resources in schools.

The Government announced a review of its RSHE guidance for schools more than a year ago.

It said its updated RSHE curriculum will be published “soon”.

Work to close the gender pay gap and reduce the environmental impact of fast fashion should also be prioritised by the next government, Girlguiding said.

Its chief executive Angela Salt said: “Girls are facing more challenges than ever in their day-to-day lives, from appearance pressures and sexual harassment, to worries about the environment, their future prospects and the cost-of-living crisis.

“We must champion this generation of girls now, more than ever, to ensure that their futures are free from limitation and inequality.”

Labour MP Kim Leadbeater, who was sponsoring the launch at an event in parliament on Tuesday, said politicians must listen to young people “as much as possible”.

She said: “As a former Brownie and Guide I’m delighted to sponsor this event and have the opportunity to hear how passionate so many girls are about making the world a better place.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Our period product scheme provides girls and women with a wide choice of period products for free when they need them in their place of study.

“Since we launched the scheme in January 2020, 99% of secondary schools, 94% of 16-19 organisations and 75% of primary schools have placed orders.”

The period products scheme runs until July.