Period Poverty in Canada
Period poverty refers to the “struggle many low-income women and girls face while trying to afford menstrual products.” This term also encompasses the “increased economic vulnerability” females face because of the economic burden caused by the high prices of menstrual supplies. This is an issue visible worldwide, but one that Canada’s provinces and municipalities have already begun tackling. In fact, the fight against period poverty in Canada has been ongoing since 2015.

Recent Polls Show Women’s Struggles

In 2020, close to 25% of Canadian women and about 33% of women younger than 25 faced financial hardship in securing “menstrual products for themselves or their dependants.” In that same year, it was estimated that “Canadians who menstruate typically spend up to $6,000 in their lifetime on menstrual hygiene products.” For women who live in remote or rural Canadian areas, the cost is even heftier —  women pay twice as much for menstrual products.

Free Menstrual Products in Schools

In 2021, a  Plan International Canada survey indicated that 63% of Canadian females “regularly or occasionally missed an activity because of their period” or due to “concerns about not being able to access menstrual hygiene products or proper facilities.” The report also showed that 34% of Canadian females “have had to regularly or occasionally sacrifice something else within their budget to afford menstrual products.”

It was due to these findings that the government of Ontario began working on reducing period poverty in the province. After months of collaboration and negotiation, in October 2021, the Ontario Government began a three-year partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart to increase access to menstrual supplies. According to Minister of Education Stephen Lecce’s announcement, the government would distribute “six million free menstrual products per school year to school boards.” This made Ontario the first of four provinces to “take action on the issue of period poverty in schools” and one of the first to actively fight period poverty in Canada.

Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues, Jane McKenna, has shown high hopes for the new program: “Our government is committed to reducing stigma and removing barriers that prevent women and girls from achieving their full potential.” McKenna stated that free menstrual products in schools “will help create more equitable environments. The partnership is working to advance female health  in order to help all “young female Ontarians to succeed, flourish and grow.”

Fighting Tampon Tax

Another example of how Canadian provinces fight period poverty in Canada is the removal of the “tampon tax.” Tampon tax refers to the specific tax placed on menstrual products such as tampons and sanitary napkins. Canada lifted this tax on period products in 2015, making the products more affordable for some but not all. For many facing economic challenges or enduring insecure housing, menstrual products are still unaffordable.

And for some, menstrual hygiene “becomes a choice rather than a necessity as they often have to choose between a meal or [tampons/sanitary napkins].” This has led to reports of many women and girls who struggle economically using unhygienic and unsanitary items such as “rags, dirty socks, paper towels and newspapers,” which puts them at risk of health issues such as toxic shock syndrome and other infections.

The Fight Continues

However, although the fight against period poverty in Canada has begun and is ongoing, there is still room for progress. Nonetheless, because the Canadian “provinces have general jurisdiction over health care,” Parliament has used its “federal division of powers” to begin programs to increase “access to free menstrual products” in many Canadian provinces and municipalities.

For example, similar to Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia also provide free menstrual products in schools. The Canadian Government is also revising and evaluating policies as well as seeking feedback about different initiatives to provide “free menstrual products in federally regulated workplaces.” The government is working to address “menstrual equity at the national level.” Thus, despite some delays that the COVID-19 pandemic caused, the Canadian government recognizes this issue and continues being receptive to helping resolve the issue, which could lead to menstrual products becoming more affordable or even becoming free to larger portions of the population in the coming years.

– Marcela Agreda L.
Photo: Unsplash

Period Poverty in India
Period poverty is a serious concern in many countries, specifically India. Period poverty involves a lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual education and hygiene and sanitation facilities necessary to properly manage menstruation. Because the impacts of period poverty are far-reaching, several organizations are aiming to address period poverty in India.

Period Poverty in India

According to Feminism India, those who cannot afford menstrual products resort to unsafe alternatives such as “rags, hay, sand and ash,” which can lead to infections. Period poverty is a continuing issue in India due to the cultural stigma surrounding menstruation. Many people consider menstruation a taboo topic that they should not discuss. In India, research has indicated that 71% of girls do not have “knowledge of menstruation before their first period.” This lack of knowledge and stigma surrounding menstruation has led to one out of every five female students dropping out of school once menstruation begins. In addition, more than 40% of female students in India choose not to attend school during their menstrual cycle due to the inability to access menstrual products to properly manage their menstruation coupled with the social stigma menstruating girls face at schools.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Period Poverty in India

Since the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, the pandemic has only intensified period poverty in India. Many organizations that are trying to address period poverty in India by providing menstrual education and free sanitary products are facing difficulties providing either. This is because COVID-19 led to school shutdowns, creating a barrier to free menstrual products and educational workshops that organizations provide to schools. In addition, organizations that were providing free menstrual products could not obtain products due to supply chain disruptions. In rural areas of India, where households struggled to afford basic groceries even before the onset of COVID-19, people do not consider menstrual products as essential.

The Desai Foundation

Samir A. Desai and Nilima Desai founded The Desai Foundation in 1997. The Desai Foundation aims to help people in both the U.S. and India through more than 25 programs covering issues such as “health and hygiene,” period poverty, entrepreneurship and vocational training. In India, the Desai Foundation works to uplift “women and children through community programming to elevate health and livelihood” in more than 568 villages. To address period poverty in India, the Foundation established the Asani Sanitary Napkin Program, which has “created economic empowerment, provided hygiene education, increased community awareness and cultivated dignity for numerous women in the region.”

The Asani Sanitary Napkin Program teaches local Indian women to produce and distribute affordable yet high-quality sanitary pads across three regions in India, with the aim of expanding to more areas. The program has created job opportunities for more than 2,000 local women who have produced more than 2.3 million sanitary pads in four manufacturing units. The Desai Foundation distributed more than 445,000 of these pads without any charge. So far, the program has positively impacted more than 270,000 girls and women.

The Onset of COVID-19

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Desai Foundation was able to adapt its programs to adhere to COVID-19 protocols. In response to the pandemic, the Desai Foundation gave employment to local village women who previously attended the organization’s sewing program. The Desai Foundation paid the women to sew two-layer protective face masks from their homes, leading to the creation of “350 COVID-safe jobs.” The women produced more than a million masks for local villagers. In the wake of COVID-19, the Desai Foundation also handed out “1 million pads to local communities, hospitals, COVID care centers and rural women” to address period poverty.

Through the ongoing commitments to address period poverty in India, girls and women are one step closer to living productive and prosperous lives.

– Sierrah Martin
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in HondurasIn 2019, almost half of the Honduran population lived on less than $5.50 a day, placing Honduras in the second-highest spot for poverty prevalence among countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Poverty in Honduras disproportionately affects women — the female unemployment rate is nearly double that of males. Due to high levels of poverty, many Honduran women and girls struggle with period poverty in Honduras, which stands as an economic and social barrier to accessing feminine hygiene resources.

Period Poverty and Education

Lack of adequate menstrual hygiene products causes girls to miss school. A 2017 study found that 66% of Honduran students dropped out of school between sixth and 10th grades. In Latin America, 43% of students with periods prefer to skip school while menstruating. Another component of period poverty is the lack of menstrual education. A 2015 study found that 48% of mothers and 40% of adolescent girls in Honduras had not received education on why women menstruate. Despite the prevalence of period poverty in Honduras, organizations are working to eradicate this issue. One such organization is Pink Box Purpose.

What is Pink Box Purpose?

Pink Box Purpose is a Christian nonprofit organization, founded by sisters Heather Wittig and Jenni Patnode, that provides hygiene, medical care, food, housing and schooling to Hondurans in need. A significant portion of Pink Box Purpose’s work involves providing free feminine care products and menstrual hygiene education to Honduran women and girls.

Wittig’s first-ever trip to Honduras inspired her to found Pink Box Purpose. While handing out feminine hygiene kits to women in the town of Olanchito, Wittig met a local teacher named Alba Carcamo who wanted to make the kits more accessible to her community. Two months later, Wittig, along with Patnode and three other women, returned to Olanchito to establish a reusable pad workshop, the “Hygiene Headquarters,” in a local community center. The Hygiene Headquarters employed five local women who took on the responsibility of sewing and distributing the pads.

Since the establishment of Pink Box Purpose in 2017, the organization has uplifted women and helped reduce period poverty in Honduras. Pink Box Purpose has distributed more than 8,000 pads to women and girls across the country. The team of local women has expanded from five 12 members, with the organization also employing three in-country liaisons.

How Does Pink Box Purpose Receive Support?

Many Pink Box Purpose supporters host pad-cutting parties during which the host and the host’s guests help cut fabric that will be sent to Hygiene Headquarters for the team to turn into pads. Pink Box Purpose provides a party kit, which includes fabric patterns to follow. The cost of the pad party kit helps support the women working at the Hygiene Headquarters.

Pink Box Purpose accepts donations directly on its website. Additional financial support through its “Gifts2Give” page helps to provide specific resources to the organization, such as sewing machines and feminine hygiene bags.

Although period poverty is still prevalent throughout Honduras, through Pink Box Purpose’s work, fewer women face this barrier. As this organization and other similar initiatives continue to do this important work, period poverty in Honduras may decline in the years to come.

 – Aimée Eicher
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Lebanon
In a world where many people within underdeveloped nations struggle to afford even their next meal, the issue of period poverty runs rampant. In Lebanon, specifically, a country experiencing what the World Bank describes as “one of the world’s worst financial crises since the 1850s,” the issue of period poverty in Lebanon is a growing concern.

What is Period Poverty?

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) defines period poverty as “the struggle many low-income women and girls face while trying to afford menstrual products.” However, one can also use the term in a more broad and all-encompassing way. Period poverty also refers to any increased financial vulnerability a group of people may face strictly due to menstruation. As the country of Lebanon sinks deeper into economic and financial turmoil, period poverty in Lebanon has reached an all-time high. According to local Lebanese organization Dawrati, as much as 66% of adolescent Lebanese girls cannot afford menstrual products to properly manage their menstruation.

Overall Poverty in Lebanon

The official Lebanese currency, the Lebanese pound, is facing severe devaluation due to several factors such as corruption, crippling debt and the lack of foreign currency circulation in the country. This financial issue plunged the Lebanese population further into poverty. According to the Observatory, “the cost of food has soared by 700% over the past two years” with the potential to increase further in 2021.

The United Nations indicates that the Lebanese multidimensional poverty rate has drastically increased from 42% of the population in 2019 to 82% in 2021. Now, a significant portion of the Lebanese population earns unlivable wages, leaving most families stuck below the poverty line.

As necessities such as food and medicine become scarce and more difficult to afford, people who menstruate view menstrual products as luxuries they simply cannot afford. Due to inflation, the price of menstrual pads and products increased by 500%. This increase, in addition to the severe decrease in the value of incomes in Lebanese households, makes period poverty in Lebanon a major issue.

The Challenges Lebanese Girls and Women Face

By attempting to substitute menstrual products with more accessible alternatives, Lebanese girls and women put themselves at risk of infections and health complications. With more than 66% of girls and women in Lebanon unable to afford menstrual products, this substitution is a common reality. More than half of women in Lebanon have reduced their consumption of pads, opting for less sanitary options to manage their periods.

Lebanese women are increasingly replacing menstrual products with children’s diapers, old pieces of cloth or fabric and even newspapers. In addition to health concerns brought about by unsanitary methods of managing periods, period poverty in Lebanon also impacts the education of girls. Many adolescent girls skip school due to a lack of menstrual products, impacting their overall education and prospects for future success.

Taking Action Against Period Poverty in Lebanon

Even though the situation concerning period poverty in Lebanon is challenging, organizations are rallying to support Lebanese people who menstruate. “Dawrati,” which translates from Arabic into “menstruation cycle,” is one of the most prominent non-governmental organizations addressing period poverty in Lebanon.

Dawrati began in May 2020 and its efforts include distributing thousands of menstruation kits, maternity kits and first-time period kits to Lebanese people in the nation’s most vulnerable areas. The organization participates in many collaborative projects with other non-governmental organizations to ensure access to menstrual kits countrywide. The organization is partnering with the Zovighian Partnership to gather data on precise period poverty statistics in Lebanon. This comprehensive research will inform Dawrati’s lobbying efforts and “help Dawrati finalize its policy proposal to end period poverty in Lebanon.”

Looking Ahead

As Lebanon’s economy continues to deteriorate, it remains important to focus on addressing period poverty as issues affecting girls and women often go overlooked by governments. Period poverty in Lebanon is a serious concern, however, many individuals and organizations continue to support the country’s most vulnerable people with the resources they need to properly manage their menstrual cycles.

– Nohad Awada
Photo: Flickr

Ending Period Poverty
Unfortunately, 1.2 billion women and adolescents cannot afford menstrual products each year. Period poverty can encompass the lack of water, sanitation, hygienic products and education, putting women of all ages at risk. Approximately 500 million women and adolescents have trouble accessing menstrual products in developed and developing countries, including Liberia. Here is some information about the state of period poverty in Liberia.

About Period Poverty in Liberia

Periods do not only take a physical toll on women and adolescents, they also impact women’s mental health. This particularly occurs when these women are just hitting puberty.

Joyce Nimely, an alumnus of Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES), shed light on how mental health and periods align with one another. The Liberian native said that “I learned that menstruation causes serious problems for women and girls physically and emotionally. It results in mood swings, it is painful, and causes changes in the body.” Nimely defined the most detrimental aspect of period poverty, the lack of access to menstrual products. This challenge frequently leads to women and girls missing out on work and school.

Limited Hygiene Products

A lack of hygienic products causes one in five girls to skip school or drop out to avoid chances of ruining their only school uniform or because this fact caused their uniform to be ruined. In the country, the majority of women have suffered from gender violence at home. Period poverty increases the risk of experiencing gender violence by 20%, with women and adolescents staying home because they do not have the essentials to maintain their period.

One in four women struggles to purchase period products. Joyce Nimely addressed what girls and women do if they cannot access hygienic products in her YES program story. The Alumnus wrote that “Many young girls in Liberia don’t have money to buy sanitary products because of its high price. Girls and women often end up using materials like newspapers, tissue, and rags. These materials cause womb cancer, infections and other diseases that may hinder pregnancy or childbirth.” However, the desperations for fundamental human rights go further than what Joyce Nimely mentions. A lack of period products leads Liberian women to use corn husks, dirtbags and animal feces as alternative products for maintaining cycles. These homemade period products lead to poor health and death because Liberian women cannot stay clean without hygienic materials and do not always have proper education on self-care.

The #GiveAPad and #FreeThePeriod Campaigns

Women from Liberia have developed organizations to help Liberian women and girls. Joyce Nimely strongly believes that menstruation should not get in the way of a girl’s education. This influenced her to build a team of Liberian people who previously worked in the YES program or had an interest in ending period poverty. The group formed the #GiveAPad and #FreeThePeriod campaigns. These campaigns consisted of them going door to door to receive donations of traditional and reusable sanitary pads.

Nimely described the origin story of her movement stating that “With the knowledge I had in making reusable sanitary pads, I realized it’s an asset that could be used in the mission to end period poverty because it could serve as an alternative when regular pads aren’t available…Since I wouldn’t always be available to make pads for these girls, my team and I decided to teach them how to make their own reusable sanitary pads.” Thus, Joyce Nimely and her team selflessly taught valuable skills that would improve the lives of multiple girls in her home country.

Miss Therchie Williams and the Miss Philanthropy Africa Initiative

Miss Therchie Willams from Maryland County, Liberia, toured 22 communities in Liberia to distribute sanitary pads and educate other girls about menstrual hygiene. She was able to do this with the help of the Miss Philanthropy Africa Initiative. This nongovernmental organization teaches women to advocate and improves the quality of life for low-income women and children of Africa. Miss Philanthropy focuses on empowerment, the value of creations and the progression of platforms that impact Liberia’s development.

Another woman who stepped up to the plate is Grace Clarke. Grace Clarke grew up in Monrovia, Liberia getting a first-hand experience of period poverty. Clarke said “That was definitely an experience that made me understand the significance of the lack of pads and period products of my hometown. It was something I could relate to.” Clarke is now the founder of PADS for Girls, and with the help of her sister, she was able to get 176-period products in nine Liberia communities.

Period poverty in Liberia is prevalent leaving Liberian women and girls at risk, but various organizations are restoring their human rights one step at a time.

– Alexis Jones

Photo: Flickr

homeless women in cornwallPeriod poverty means a woman or girl is unable to afford sanitary products to properly manage menstruation. In 2017, research showed that a tenth of girls in Britain could not afford period products. About 15% of girls struggled to afford period products, including homeless women. Period poverty complicates girls’ lives and denies girls many opportunities. In Cornwall, located in Southwest England, many homeless residents are women facing period poverty.

Period Poverty among Homeless Women

In the United Kingdom, about 280,000 people face homelessness. Within this figure, a sizable number are women who sleep in a visible and vulnerable place and struggle to access period products. According to research published by The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstruation Studies, homeless women interviewed described their periods as “emotional” and “painful” and connected with poor mental health. Women who face homelessness require rest and privacy during their period and often find it highly challenging to meet these needs.

Women experiencing homelessness often face difficult choices. For instance, they often conceal and hide their periods and use toilet paper as a substitute for sanitary products. Other options include “survival shoplifting” in order to have necessary period products for the month. Another issue is that some homeless shelters do not offer period products regularly because these products are not seen as a basic necessity.

The Story of Bimini Love

At the age of 15, British teenager Bimini Love started the project Street Cramps in order to provide “sanitary products, clean underwear [and] heatpads” to homeless women in Cornwall. Bimini’s passion and efforts started when she recognized an alarming increase in the number of homeless women where she lived. She learned about the pain period poverty caused for homeless women. This issue started her research on period poverty among homeless women and the lack of basic sanitary needs. Period poverty for homeless women can be particularly difficult to address.

In response to this issue, she began Street Cramps. Bimini went online and started a fundraiser to get more money to pay for more products and raised more than £7,000 on Crowdfunder. She worked to get period products to homeless women in Cornwall. Her initiative led her to contact homeless shelters in her area to ensure homeless women in Cornwall had access to certain period products, expanding her efforts and outreach along the way. Today, Street Cramps projects are spreading to different cities as well.

Recognition and the Future

In 2019, Bimini won the Points of Light award and was acknowledged by the Prime Minister for improving the lives of many women facing period poverty. Bimini also spoke about period poverty among homeless women in Cornwall in her TedX Talk, “Street Cramps: a 15-year-old tackles period poverty.”

While Bimini raised a large sum of money and helped women in need, the fight continues. Street Cramps proves that homeless women do not have to endure period poverty without support. Moving forward, efforts like Bimini’s can alleviate both pain and suffering while deepening community ties.

Nyelah Mitchell
Photo: Unsplash

Period Poverty in Romania
Periods can be uncomfortable, embarrassing and expensive. One box of 32 tampons in Bucharest, Romania, costs 15 lei or approximately $3.61. Although this may seem like a small price to pay, the typical female “uses 20 regular tampons per cycle – and therefore 240 per year,” meaning that the average woman spends an estimated $27 per year on menstrual products, a hefty sum for families living in poverty. For this reason, period poverty in Romania is significant.

Period Poverty in Romania

According to period poverty hero and activist Irina Vasilescu, “in Romania, menstruation is a big taboo but at the same time very subtle.” There are many myths surrounding periods and much secrecy regarding what type of products women and girls should use to prevent visible bleeding. Vasilescu recalled the many instances where she educated youth on menstruation, mentioning that parents often asked for the curriculum to remove demonstrations on how to use pads and tampons from the curriculum. Parents wanted their children to know what a period is but not how to utilize the very methods designed to prevent the shame that many people associate with getting a period.

Effects of Period Poverty

Despite many misconceptions, the inability to afford menstrual products is not the only definition of period poverty. Lack of access to period products such as tampons, pads and wet wipes is also a significant part of the problem. Regarding period poverty in Romania, many homeless women or low-income families struggle to afford menstrual products and turn to old rags such as cut-up socks, underwear or t-shirts to prevent blood from seeping through their clothing. When many girls in Romania first get their periods, they simply abstain from attending school for fear of experiencing public ridicule. This is problematic because young girls are forfeiting their education due to a lack of access to feminine hygiene products. After all, it is no secret that generations of societal shame have indirectly taught women and girls to feel disgusted by a natural process of their bodies.

Pe Stop Addresses Period Poverty in Romania

Pe Stop is a Romanian NGO that emerged to provide women and girls with feminine hygiene products as well as accurate information regarding menstruation to reduce common misconceptions surrounding periods, including the idea that utilizing tampons can take away girls’ virginity. Volunteers run Pe Stop, managing “packaging, acquisition, distribution” and “field trips for fundraising campaigns.” The packages that those suffering from period poverty in Romania receive contain masks, menstrual pads, disinfectant gel and sometimes wet wipes, condoms, underwear and dry wipes. Again, since this NGO runs on a volunteer basis, Pe Stop depends heavily on funding and donations to survive and provide for the public.

Pe Stop has managed to sustain itself through its “education first” initiative. Conducting classes to teach women and girls about proper menstrual care leaves them with a lasting knowledge on the subject that they can continue to pass on from generation to generation. Vasilescu mentions that even if funding were to dry up, “no one can take the information on how to take care of yourself properly in any situation. If you receive the information once, it stays with you.”

Concluding Thoughts

Although it can be uncomfortable to discuss, menstruation signifies womanhood. Thankfully, organizations such as Pe Stop recognize the issue and are aiding period poverty in Romania through education. As more people become aware of the myths of menstruation and learn the tools necessary to make the transition to womanhood as seamless as possible, knowledge surrounding periods will become normalized and the negative stigma that many people associate with periods will evaporate.

– Sara Jordan Ruttert
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Mexico
Of the 127 million people in Mexico, 44% or 56 million live below the poverty line. Poverty often means a lack of shelter and food and not having the necessary resources to manage monthly menstruation. Without proper sanitation to manage menstruation, girls miss school and women miss work, along with other opportunities to overcome poverty. Period poverty in Mexico needs to be addressed to ensure that women and girls have the opportunity to progress in their lives.

About Period Poverty

Period poverty is the umbrella term for lack of access to sanitary products or the infrastructure to clean oneself during menstruation due to this economic, social and political issue. According to Global Citizen, “When people can’t manage their periods safely and with dignity, they miss out on school, [work] and opportunities to overcome poverty.” Menstrual poverty is an issue that COVID-19 exacerbated. An additional 3.8 million people in Mexico fell into poverty between 2018 and 2021 due, in part, to the pandemic. This rise in poverty is likely to have increased menstrual poverty.

Period Poverty in Mexico Schools

The lower chamber in Mexico approved a law in March 2021 to make female sanitary products, such as tampons, pads and menstrual cups, free in schools. The law still requires the Mexican Senate’s approval. If passed, the intention is to reinforce menstrual education to fight misinformation and bullying targeting menstruating girls.

There remains a lack of sexual and reproductive education, taboos about menstruation and the absence of the sanitary infrastructure for girls to maintain menstrual hygiene practices and dispose of sanitary products, adding to the obstacles around period poverty in Mexico. For women and girls, menstrual poverty perpetuates more poverty. Without menstrual products, water or pain medication, girls may miss school rather than risk humiliation at school.

Mental Health and Period Poverty

Beyond the lack of available menstrual products, missing school, work and other opportunities, girls who live with period poverty may also experience poor mental health. A limited ability to obtain menstrual products due to poverty can lead to anxiety, depression and feelings of embarrassment.

Period, a global nonprofit, and Thinx, a company that sells period underwear, recently implemented a study showing that two-thirds of teen girls experience stress due to limited menstrual supplies, along with feelings of shame and self-consciousness. In fact, UNICEF reports that half of school-aged girls would rather miss school than risk embarrassment of stained clothing from their periods. The fact that girls miss school has links to poverty, domestic violence, health complications and child marriage.

Menstrual products are necessary items that are often unattainable for girls and women facing poverty. This is partly due to the Value Added Tax (VAT) in Mexico that includes a 16% tax on sanitary pads and tampons and all items related to the management of menstruation.

In September 2020, Deputy of Movimiento Ciudadano Martha Tagle approached the Chamber of Deputies in Mexico with a proposal to eliminate VAT on sanitary products. Congress threw the proposal out after a vote with 218 voicing disapproval, 185 votes of approval and 11 abstaining from the vote. Congress stated that eliminating the VAT was not possible during the health crisis of the pandemic. However, groups such as Movimiento Cuidadano are making strides to reduce the cost of menstrual products.

Menstruación Digna Law

While Mexico is yet to remove the tax successfully, one state has made some headway. On March 3, 2021, Michoacán, Mexico, located in Western Mexico along the Pacific coastline and the ninth largest state in Mexico, passed the Menstruación Digna Law that incorporates menstrual education into health education in schools. Advocacy groups see this as a step forward for those experiencing menstrual poverty in Mexico and another positive move toward making sanitary products and menstrual education accessible to all girls and women in Mexico.

Impacts of Childhood Marriage on Period Poverty in Mexico

UNICEF has reported that girls who miss school or do not receive an education are more at risk of entering child marriage, experience pregnancy, malnourishment and domestic violence. Marriage as a child and teen pregnancies can exacerbate the cycle of poverty. Without powerful remedial measures, the World Bank estimates that the learning loss that has already occurred is going to cost girls in Mexico an average of 8% of their future income.

According to the World Bank, ending childhood marriage and educating girls can be powerful agents of socioeconomic change. Upon completion of school, girls are less likely to experience child marriage, face domestic abuse and suffer from long-term health complications. As a result, females who have education are more likely to have fewer and healthier children. These children then, in turn, are more likely to obtain an education and pull themselves out of poverty, thereby breaking the cycle of poverty. Educating girls around the world and in Mexico could shift the socioeconomic status and infrastructure of countries.

Ban on Plastic Applicators

In January 2021, a ban on plastic applicators in Mexico further exacerbated the issue of period poverty for girls and women. With a lack of access to tampons, women and girls are more at risk of missing more school. Experts have said that the ban could increase period poverty in a country where 43% of the population lives under the poverty line. For those in the lowest income level in Mexico, menstrual health accounts for up to 5% of their monthly expenses. A significant group of women in Mexico City also say that they cannot purchase tampons on e-commerce sites.

Eradicating period poverty in Mexico will support the world effort to end poverty by 2030. As Global Citizen states, “The world must act to end period poverty and guarantee clean water and sanitation for all by 2030. Promoting menstrual equity is key to supporting women and young girls.”

Advocating to end period poverty in Mexico is advantageous. Research shows that when girls receive education, gross domestic product (GDP) grows. A one percentage point increase in female education raises the average GDP by 0.3 percentage points and raises annual GDP growth rates by 0.2 percentage points.

– Sarah Mackay
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Costa RicaIn the 1980s, Costa Rica faced one of its worst economic downturns to date. Record high inflation and rising unemployment rates swiftly became a reality for the small country. In the years since, Costa Rica has pulled off an impressive recovery, but a recent trend of slowing growth rates may point to underlying socio-economic issues, particularly impacting women. In order to effectively close the gender gap, efforts must focus on alleviating period poverty in Costa Rica.

Poverty Response in Costa Rica

After its economic collapse, Costa Rica’s resilience shone through in the country’s determination to revive its economy. However, Costa Rica’s success as one of the wealthiest countries in Latin America comes along with a noticeable decline in its poverty rate over the last 20 years. In 2010, 2.2% of GDP was spent on almost 45 poverty programs, according to the CATO Institute. Although Costa Rica’s expenditure was one of the highest in comparison to other countries, the policies have stagnated in providing results. National poverty rates rose more than 1% between 2017 and 2018, with nearly 12,371 new households falling into extreme poverty.

Many economists point to income and labor inequality as the main factors behind this trend. The falling high school enrollment rates during the 1980s, as a result of families sending their children into the workforce, account for the generation of laborers in unskilled positions. In recent years, the increased demand for skilled workers has left this population struggling to make ends meet. Most notably, this labor inequality is directly linked to low labor force participation, particularly concentrated among impoverished groups.

The Presence of Gender Inequality

Costa Rica ranks fourth among Latin American countries with the lowest labor participation rate among women. The female population, who already make up a smaller percentage of the workforce overall, still experience entry barriers amid a period of job growth. Gender inequality remains rampant in Costa Rica as women find themselves not only distanced from receiving a proper education but also more likely to spend time on unpaid work. Forced into taking responsibility for the majority of household tasks involving cleaning, cooking and child-rearing prevent women from contributing to the labor market and carving out a stable financial situation for themselves.

While several initiatives promote gender equality, there remains an “apparent feminization of income poverty,” as explained by Professor Sylvia Chant. In a 2008 research paper, Chant explains that while Costa Rica has made considerable strides in overcoming poverty inequalities, women are much more likely to remain impoverished. Period poverty, though more of a consequence than a direct correlation, impacts impoverished women who also generally lack access to schooling, job opportunities and financial security.

Empowerment movements often fail to address how women in male-dominated households face negligence or violence in the case of failing to meet expectations. Not having an outlet in which they can make money of their own leaves them without assistance or the knowledge of how to tackle period poverty. This ultimately keeps women trapped in a cycle of helplessness. Single mother households, which have been on the rise in recent years, witness such inequality firsthand. Due to gender inequality, many single mothers are unable to find jobs and provide a stable household for their children, often feeding into the cycle of prioritizing survival over education.

A Brighter Future for Costa Rican Women

Community leader Ana López Ramírez hopes to empower Costa Rican women and address period poverty in Costa Rica. After noticing the disparities in her community, she began an organization focusing on empowering imprisoned women — a highly vulnerable group in Costa Rica. Along with other social justice organizations, she helps to provide reusable sanitation pads that women can use freely while incarcerated. Her organization now works on distributing products to women who have since been released, raising awareness on period poverty and menstrual health in Costa Rica.

These efforts have also made headway legislatively with the introduction of a bill in March 2021 surrounding the Menstruation and Justice project, which hopes to reduce the value-added tax on menstrual products. The bill aims to classify all menstrual products as part of the “Basic Priority Goods Basket.” This law will make sanitary products more accessible, reducing period poverty in Costa Rica. The initiative also pushes for increased menstrual education, urging the Ministry of Justice, the Costa Rican Social Security Fund and the Ministry of Health to include menstrual health education in public policies.

With continued commitment, individuals, organizations and the Costa Rican government can drastically reduce period poverty in Costa Rica while simultaneously empowering impoverished Costa Rican women.

– Nicole Yaroslavsky
Photo: Flickr

Menstrual ProductsAmid conflict and war, Syrian women face a forgotten but significant issue: a lack of access to menstrual products. Despite its natural occurrence, periods are a source of shame and taboo in many countries, including Syria. Those living under siege in Syria are forced to live without basic necessities such as clean water and feminine hygiene products.

Huda’s Story

An article in the Independent newspaper details the interview of a 23-year-old named Huda living in a small village called Saqba, outside of Damascus, under strict government siege since 2013. She explains that there are hardly any menstrual products available for citizens of Saqba; any products available are marketed with prices so high that women are forced to choose between pads and food. As a result, Huda decided to use an old rag she found instead of buying menstrual products. This decision ultimately led to gynecological infections. Evidently, this is an issue that comes with deadly consequences, especially because many Syrians cannot afford proper medical treatment. Those who can afford to see one of the few gynecologists in the area will be prescribed medicine, a commodity usually unavailable in sieged regions.

The Alternative

More than 860,000 Syrians live under government siege, lacking basic necessities such as menstrual products and food. The shortage has led to the adoption of “the traditional method,” meaning women reuse old rags, pieces of mattress or even moss and grass as an alternative to menstrual products. The lack of clean water or fuel to boil water has also made it impossible to clean these rags properly, leading to infections.

Along with menstrual products, cramps are a source of distress for a majority of women who have periods. Without access to painkillers or heating pads, women are sometimes confined to bed rest or in constant agony during their period. Additionally, Global One conducted a study in refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria and found that almost 60% of Syrian females do not even have access to underwear. An even higher amount do not have access to feminine hygiene products.

The Taboo of Periods

The taboo of periods has only added to the mounting struggles that Syrian women face surrounding their menstrual cycles. In the Independent newspaper, many interviewed Syrian women even asked to be referred to under a pseudo name to protect their reputation while discussing their periods. To add to this, the anxiety of war and loss can lead to skipped periods or more heavy bleeding, further exacerbating the issue.

Many women in refugee or displacement camps do not leave their homes due to fear or shame; this fear intensifies when they do not have any menstrual products or a way to hide the bleeding. This can lead to social isolation and difficulty integrating into society. In addition, lacking access to menstrual products not only impacts women physically but can also affect their mental health.

Aid Packages

Many aid packages sent to Syria now include sanitary items. However, it is still not enough to help the millions of Syrian women in desperate need of these essential menstrual products. Along with this, sieged areas have limited access, with many nonprofit organizations unable to gain entrance to areas under government control. In 2016, the United Nations Children’s Agency successfully delivered 84,000 pads to Syrian women. While this seems like a significant amount, it hardly scratches the surface of the necessary amount of menstrual products.

An estimate from 2016 assumed that if one-third of the sieged population (860,000 as of 2016) were female, they would need more than 10 million pads annually. According to the World Bank, in 2020, 49% of the Syrian population was female. Since the sieged population has increased, the need for sanitary products is more prominent than ever.

The main obstacle in the path to safe menstrual hygiene for Syrian women is that many people do not view menstrual products as a priority, mainly because it only affects women.

Days for Girls to the Rescue

An organization in Lebanon has spearheaded an initiative to give these women a safe and affordable way to obtain menstrual products. Days for Girls (DFG), founded by Celeste Mergens in 2008, supports girls who do not have access to sanitary pads. The organization reaches 128 countries, the first location being Lebanon. These efforts focus on helping the 1.14 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. Not only does DFG provide sanitary pads for girls who need them but it also helps provide young women with a source of income by educating girls on pad production lines during an eight-day training session. The training aids young women by giving them a stable source of income and specialized skills that they can use in the future.

Arguably, one of the most significant impacts of DFG is battling the stigma that surrounds menstruation and teaching girls that periods are not a source of shame. DFG also focuses on creating reusable cloth pads that can last up to three years, helping reduce the amount of waste created by pad disposal. This benefits both the environment and the Syrian refugees in need of feminine hygiene products.

Ending Period Poverty in Syria

While the situation may seem bleak, organizations like DFG are continuously working to help Syrian women obtain the help they need. Through efforts made by DFG and others with similar missions as well as raising awareness of the issues, the international community can eradicate period poverty in Syria.

– Mariam Abaza
Photo: Flickr