We Must Address Period Poverty

Source: Alamy Stock Photo

As a girl, I’ve always struggled with having a period. I’ve dealt with awful cramps, extreme headaches, and a lot of pain overall. However, I’ve been lucky enough to always have access to everything I need to help me feel better. While I’ve felt the pain of having a period, I have access to different types of sanitary products, medicine, and hygienic facilities and many people who menstruate around the world don’t.

Period Poverty. The inability to access sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, and waste management for menstruation.

This means the inability to:

  • Use clean materials to absorb menstrual blood
  • Change those materials in privacy
  • Be able to use soap and water to wash and clean ourselves
  • Have safe and convenient facilities to dispose of used products
  • Have access to basic information about the menstrual cycle
  • and be able to manage having a period without discomfort or fear.

Unfortunately 1 in 4 womxn will experience period poverty sometime in their menstruating years. Period poverty is a problem everywhere. It affects people in low, middle, and high-income countries.

Why does it occur?

1. Lack of access to sanitary products

In Kenya, 65% of womxn are unable to afford menstrual hygiene products.

In Tanzania, the use of sanitary pads is as low as 18%.

In Nigeria, 31–56% of girls who menstruate use toilet paper or cloth to absorb the blood instead of menstrual pads.

In Gambia, only 1/3 of people who menstruate use menstrual pads.

In India, 43–88% of womxn wash and reuse cotton cloth pads. Most of the cleaning is done without soap or with unclean water and the drying is done indoors because of social taboos. This leads to products that are not adequately sanitized and can result in health complications.

Much of this is because period products are expensive. They are perceived as luxury products and many countries do not see them as necessities. In the US, this is shown through the “luxury tax” or “pink tax” on menstrual products. The pink tax refers to the extra amount of money womxn pay for specific products or services. Tampons and pads are subject to sales tax because they are considered “luxury” items. In 35 US states, period products are taxed while men’s grooming products and erectile dysfunction medication are not taxed.

Another important thing to note is that menstrual supplies are not covered by food stamps and SNAP benefits. For a someone living on $5 a day, this means that their only choice is between food or menstrual products.

Source: Getty

2. Lack of safe water, sanitation, and hygiene

In developing countries, 2.4 billion people are living without basic sanitation services. That’s 31% of the global population living without those adequate resources.

In Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, most of the population lives in a semi subsistence lifestyle in rural areas. Only 15% of the population has access to hygienic and private toilet facilities.

It forces the womxn who can’t afford sanitary products to turn to rags, clothes, newspaper, and even dead animal skins. This is a huge health concern not to mention safety risk. In the Solomon Islands, womxn report going to the sea to wash themselves. Going out alone in many countries can expose them to physical, sexual, and emotional violence.

3. Lack of Education

In many communities, there is a secrecy surrounding periods and many womxn do not know what menstruation is before their first period. A lack of understanding about periods can lead to anything from embarrassment about bringing menstrual products to the bathroom.

Period Poverty has HUGE implications for the womxn it affects:

“They lack pain relievers because they cannot afford it, and find the pain unbearable”- Milele Center

Young womxn around the world miss 10–20% of school days a year because of a lack of menstrual supplies, inadequate sanitation and toilets, period pain, or social stigma. They have reported a fear and shame due to dropping of sanitary materials, smell and staining of clothes, teasing, fears of pregnancy, and experience of harassment by male students and teachers.

In impoverished countries, many schools also lack the physical necessities such as private bathrooms with water and soap, a private open-air place to dry wet clothes, and a trash can for used pads. Menstrual pain is another reason why people go absent.

In Rwanda, students often miss 50 days of school per year due to a lack of supplies and because they don’t want to be laughed at.

Since these students miss so much school as a result of a completely natural bodily process, they often fall behind and some even drop out altogether. In Tanzania, only 8% of young womxn finish secondary school and the average menstruating student misses three to four classes per cycle.

All of this can completely derail their life. School dropouts have been associated with maternal death, reduced population health, and increased infection rates of conditions like HIV. Dropping out of school also stops them from reaching their full potential and exposes them to more danger. Girls are more likely to enter child marriages and experience an early pregnancy, malnourishment, domestic violence, and pregnancy complications if they do not complete school.

Health and safety can also be jeopardized because of a lack of and cost of menstrual supplies. Lack of supplies can force people in impoverished communities to resort to unhygienic materials. This can lead to health complications that can even be fatal.

Since there is such a lack of access, many girls also engage in “transactional sex” with men for money to buy pads. In Kenya, 10% of girls 15 years or younger admitted to having transactional sex to get money to buy pads. 1 in 10 girls YOUNGER than 15 years old.

Poor menstrual hygiene can lead to many issues including fungal or bacterial infections of the reproductive and urinary tracts. Many womxn contract

  • Irritation of the skin- this can possibly result in dermatitis which is a medical condition in which the skin swells, turns red, and at times becomes sore with blisters.
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)- this happens when bacteria is introduced in the urethra and can happen anywhere in the urinary tract. This can be fatal as it can damage the kidneys if left untreated
  • Genital tract infections- when bacteria grow in the genital tract this can cause damage to the vagina.
  • Alteration in the pH balance of vaginal secretions- There is a very delicate balance of good and bad bacteria that live in the vagina. If the balance is changed, it can caused bacterial vaginosis.
  • Cervical cancer- Womxn are more likely to get cervical cancer if they’ve had a UTI or other infections in the past.
  • Infertility- unhygienic menstruation practices can lead to infertility.

Since this is such a huge problem, why hasn’t it been addressed?

“Go apart from womxn during the monthly course, do not approach them until there are clean.”- Quran 2:222

A big part of the reason is because of the social stigma surrounding menstruation.

This stigma stems from gender inequality and it causes girls to feel a shame about having their period. This stigma starts from a very young age.

When we see our moms hiding boxes of menstrual products in the bathroom.

When only girls are taught about periods in school (if that) and boys aren’t.

When girls go through their entire life hiding tampons and pads up their sleeve when they need to use the bathroom in a public place.

Many girls internalize the stigma and believe that they are supposed to stop doing normal activities. They believe that they aren’t supposed to take a bath, rinse their hair, or cook, among other things, during their period.

The stigma is systematic and brought through generations of culture. In many countries menarche (the first cycle a girl experiences) is associated with adulthood and marriage. This can happen when a girl is 10 years old. The cost of menstrual products on a family also contributes to the perception of daughters being economical burdens.

“In her menstrual impurity; she is unclean… whoever toucher… shall be unclean and shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until evening”- Leviticus 15

A huge example of systematic stigma regarding periods is Nepal.

Chhaupadi is an ancient tradition practiced in Nepal. It is the banishing of menstruating womxn and girls to mud huts during their cycle. It is believed that if they are not separated, they will bring bad luck and health on their family. Those girls are left alone with little or no supplies. No sanitary protection. And no washing facilities. Most develop physical and psychological damage and there have been multiple reports of death.

Similar events happen in Venezuela and Ghana. Womxn are forced to sleep in huts and are not allowed to enter a house with a man or cooked food.

Even in more developed countries, womxn still face a sort of stigma. They fear participating in school, athletics, and other social settings. A huge misconception is that womxn become incapable of doing certain activities, both physical and emotional, because of their menstrual cycles. This also creates barriers to opportunities. Something extremely naturally becomes a taboo subject. Period products aren’t thought of as necessities.

Access to menstrual products is a right that has been taken away from so many all over the world. We must fight to erase the social stigma and give all womxn what they need to make the most out of their lives!

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17 Years Old- Passionate about FemTech and Gene Editing- TKS

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Nikhita Srinivas

Nikhita Srinivas

17 Years Old- Passionate about FemTech and Gene Editing- TKS

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