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20th May 2022

Killarney secondary school students awarded for tackling period misinformation

Sarah McKenna Barry

“We thought it was important that people were informed.”

If you’re not on TikTok, it’s possible that you haven’t noticed the huge amount of misinformation regarding periods that circulate there.

The video-sharing app is awash with myths and unsubstantiated claims about menstrual disorders and period products, and while it’s easy to turn a blind eye and scroll on, this simply wasn’t an option for a group of transition year students in St. Brigid’s Secondary School in Killarney.

Alarmed by what they were both seeing online, and hearing in their school halls, Anna Cashman, Alice Cronin, Claire McCarthy, Lucy Spellman and Rachel Wallace decided to form Operation Red, a campaign to raise awareness about the lack of knowledge surrounding menstrual disorders and encourage an open conversation about periods among their peers.

“In our school, we noticed that there was a lot of stigma,” Aoife tells Her. “We thought that it was important that people were informed.”

“We wanted to reduce that stigma,” Claire added.

Outlining their motivations, Anna said: “We want to make sure that girls have information. We’re educating them because their health is important.”

The girls began work on Operation Red back in September, and earlier this month, they were recognised for their efforts at the Young Social Innovators’ Awards, where they received the Bronze Award, beating out hundreds of other entries.

The project saw the group highlight online misinformation about periods, and promote reputable sources instead. They encouraged their school community to look for information on the HSE or NHS’ website, or to phone their GP if they have concerns.

During their research, they noted that there was a direct link between the stigma associated with periods, and the rise of misinformation. Indeed, when something isn’t talked about out in the open, it’s easier for unsubstantiated claims to circulate, and this can be harmful, particularly when you’re dealing with health issues.

As Plan International laid out in their survey of over 26,000 girls and young women, misinformation has harmed 9 out of 10 women. In terms of menstruation, myths and stigma can foster feelings of shame and anxiety, but it could also lead to missed diagnoses due to girls not reaching out to trusted medical sources.

Since launching Operation Red, the girls have already noticed a marked difference in the conversations surrounding periods at school. There’s no judgment now, and they feel equipped to direct their peers to reputable sources of information.

What’s more, the girls plan on making Operation Red a mainstay in their school. Right now, their goal is to produce a booklet that dispels misinformation that will be distributed to every student when she enters first year, ensuring that the legacy of their project remains long after they’ve graduated.