With pertinent issues like gender-based violence and discrimination coming to the forefront, period poverty is becoming a key aspect of fighting gender inequality globally. Period poverty, another key facet that one can classify as the feminization of poverty, is the inaccessibility and lack of adequate menstrual hygiene products and supplies for women and girls.
The Status Quo of Period Poverty
Even though period poverty is a significant issue to tackle, unlike other women’s issues and struggles, the stigma attached to period and menstruation remains a rather strong barrier to remediating the problem. In May 2018, the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) reported on the menstrual stigma and taboo in East and Southern Africa, highlighting impacts like women’s health risks and human rights violations.
Among developing countries, in particular, the stigma against menstruation deeply entrenches in culture and religion as the taboo regarding periods has been a long-term stigma for many years. The patriarchal dominance that continues to exist among communities across the world is aggravating the problem further.
For example, countries like Nepal still practice Chhaupadi, which is a regressive yet common practice where women must confine themselves to a specific part of the house during their menstrual cycle. Furthermore, over 60 percent of teachers in Sri Lanka perceived menstrual blood as impure in some way. Women and girls in sub-Saharan African countries also face the impacts of this issue.
Impacts on Education
Most importantly, period poverty can be a major social impediment to girl’s education as young girls from poorer social-economic backgrounds often miss a lot of school as they face difficulties in coping with their cycle.
According to a 2014 study conducted by UNESCO, one in every 10 girls face menstrual problems and have to miss out on school. Often women and girls use mud, leaves, paper and animal skins to stem menstrual flow as resources are often scarce. In countries like Sri Lanka, pads and other sanitary products often receive a heavy tax, despite the fact that the taxation on menstrual products has decreased to around 63 percent in recent years.
Current Progress and Initiatives
Yet, more recently, in a revolutionary move, India’s Supreme Court was proud to declare a renouncement of the ban on menstruating women, citing not only its constitutional immorality but also the religious and social constraints it imposes on women. The announcement stated that the state had the duty to protect and safeguard the rights and freedoms of women.
Additionally, Alstons Marketing Company Limited (AMCO) recently embarked on the End Poverty Initiative to distribute over 115,000 pads to girls in Trinidad and Tobago. The Kenyan government is offering assistance to girls by subsiding menstrual hygiene products and removing the imposition of the VAT (Value Added Tax).
The U.K. has additionally launched a global fund to eliminate period poverty by the year 2050. The government is pledging over 2 million pounds to aid international organizations and assist in other global initiatives to tackle the stigma associated with menstruation and the period taboo.
As advocacy and awareness-building remain pivotal, May 28 is now Menstrual Hygiene Day. Globally, organizations like Period Equity are helping to bridge the gaps and make menstrual hygiene and care more affordable.
Community-based initiatives and grassroots activities may be a long-term solution to the problem. The provision of WASH services is also essential as it ensures greater menstrual hygiene and will eliminate health risks among communities by monitoring waste management systems and building functional toilets.
Preventing the debilitation of period poverty is of paramount importance for future social development and progress to improve the overall status of women. It will help solve other associated issues like girl’s education, mobility and health care and ensure greater participation of women in the economy and the workforce.
– Shivani Ekkanath