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

Period Poverty in KenyaPeriod poverty in Kenya, or poor access to menstrual hygiene facilities, products and education, marginalizes women. In the year 2016, “a report funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation” noted that about half of Kenyan girls could not openly talk about menstruation due to a negative societal response to the topic. However, organizations and initiatives aim to combat menstrual stigma and fight period poverty in Kenya.

5 Solutions to Fight Period Poverty in Kenya

  1. Increasing Access to Sanitary Products. To fight period poverty in Kenya, it is important to ensure free or affordable access to sanitary products for all young girls. Access to menstrual products can keep girls in school, which will reduce the disproportionate dropout rates between boys and girls when transitioning into high school. In May 2021, a Kenyan citizen filed a petition to have the Kenyan government provide sanitary products in schools for free.
  2. Proper Policy Implementation. The government must properly implement policies that aim to combat period poverty. In 2017, the government of Kenya passed a law that would have seen all girls receive sanitary products for free while enrolled in school, but this law was not properly implemented. In addition, the government, where possible, must allocate more state funds to ensure more girls can access sanitary products regardless of economic status.
  3. Private Sector Involvement. Procter & Gamble, the company that produces the Always menstrual brand, created the Always Keeping Girls in School program to address period poverty in African countries. Since 2008, this program has donated more than 13 million pads to more than 200,000 girls in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. Similarly, Bayer employees have shown initiative by providing free menstrual cups to girls in Kenya. Involving the private sector in the fight against period poverty would also help the Kenyan government implement its policies better.
  4. More Education Initiatives. Innovative programs focused on key populations have emerged to fight period poverty in Kenya. For example, the United Nations Population Fund partnered with a grassroots organization called This-Ability Trust, which has been providing menstrual education to those with disabilities. Puberty education is also crucial. Currently, only about 50% of girls are willing to openly discuss menstrual health matters in family settings. Breaking the silence by educating pubescent teens and adolescents on the importance of menstrual health will encourage them to approach their teachers, parents and guardians for further guidance.
  5. Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Lastly, aid is needed to help Kenya recover from the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic, which had indirect effects on period poverty. Quarantine measures in Kenya meant that women and girls could not access health services that provide sanitary products for free. Economic stresses also meant girls and women could not afford sanitary products. Organizations like Plan International have been able to lend a helping hand to girls who live in slums. Plan International distributed almost 3,000 sanitary products to women in Kenya’s Kibera slum in partnership with the Kenyan organization ZanaAfrica. Since 65% of women and girls in Kenya are unable to access sanitary products due to economic reasons, these humanitarian efforts help fight period poverty in Kenya.

Looking to the Future

By focusing on such solutions to fight period poverty in Kenya, the Kenyan government and nonprofit organizations can empower and uplift impoverished Kenyan women. Reducing period poverty in Kenya ensures that the lives of girls and women are not disrupted simply due to the inability to afford menstrual products.

– Frank Odhiambo
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Period Poverty in JapanAlthough Japan is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, many women struggle to obtain sanitary products for menstruation. Some women cannot afford menstrual products and social stigma on the topic of menstruation means women suffer in silence  adding to the challenges of period poverty in Japan. In 2019, Japan raised the taxes on sanitary products from 8% to 10%, whilst excluding products ranging from newspapers to non-alcoholic drinks. While it may seem like a small change, women who already struggle financially now struggle further to access sanitary products.

What is Period Poverty?

Period poverty is the inability to afford menstrual products, including pads and tampons, or not having access to handwashing facilities and waste management. Period products often have an extra tax, commonly known as “pink tax.” The tax increases the prices of these basic essentials, transforming pads and tampons into luxury items for women who struggle financially. Many use unhygienic alternatives as menstrual products, including rags, toilet paper or used pads, which can cause infections. Around 2.3 billion people worldwide do not have access to basic sanitation facilities, which adds another difficulty to properly managing a period. The shame that many people associate with menstruation can even cause girls and women to skip school or work.

Causes of Period Poverty in Japan

People in Japan do not discuss menstruation openly, so families and the government often do not address the challenges women face surrounding their periods. Furthermore, there is a large gender pay gap in Japan, women earn “only 73% as much as men.” The World Economic Forum ranked Japan 120th out of 156 countries on the gender gap report. Women also face employment inequality. Overall, significantly lower wages mean women have even less money left over from the costs of rent or food to buy sanitary products.

In addition, mothers, especially single mothers, do not receive full benefits if they work part-time, which leaves them financially insecure. More than 40% of women who work part-time earn less than $9,100 a year and part-time jobs leave women without security or opportunities to advance professionally. With children, women must put any extra money toward the needs of their children rather than purchasing sanitary products.

Statistics and Stories

  • If estimates determine that basic monthly expenses of sanitary products are 1,000 yen, or $9, this adds up to almost 500,000 yen or $4,500 over a lifetime. Some women may need painkillers or extra sanitary products, which adds to the expenses overall.
  • In a survey of 671 school-age women, only 82.9% could afford to use sanitary products as needed and did not require the use of unsafe alternatives.
  • Of the 671 women surveyed, 37% reported that financial difficulties forced them to change their pads or tampons less frequently.
  • A questionnaire that an activism group sent out received responses from women who reported using one pad the entire day or wrapping toilet paper around a used pad to save costs.

Steps Toward Progress

In the last few years, there have been small steps toward ending period poverty in Japan. In March 2021, the Japanese government budgeted 1.3 billion yen to help women in need of menstrual products. The government also helped local municipalities by distributing sanitary pads and tampons to the public free of charge. There is also a growing awareness of menstruation in pop culture and social media. The hit Japanese movie “Little Miss Period” breaks the menstrual taboo while providing education on periods. In addition, there are movements online to sign petitions to reduce the taxes. Some are hopeful that implementing menstrual education in schools will facilitate easier and more frequent conversations, thereby improving period poverty in Japan.

– Madeleine Proffer
Photo: Unsplash

period poverty in the U.K.
Period poverty happens when people are unable to afford or access proper period products due to low income. The average period lasts around five days, costing Scottish people around $10 a month for period products. Period poverty is a global issue that is not receiving enough attention. The U.K. is the first country to take significant steps to reduce period poverty. Here is some information about period poverty in the United Kingdom.

Period Poverty in the United Kingdom

In 2020, more than 2,000 people took a survey in schools, colleges and universities around Scotland. The results showed that one in four respondents was unable to access period products.

According to a Plan International report from 2017, a British children’s charity, period poverty affects one in 10 British girls aged 14 to 21. Furthermore, 49% of girls across the U.K. admitted to having missed a day of school because of their inability to access period products.

The Effects of COVID-19 on Period Poverty

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, period poverty in the U.K. has increased. Before the pandemic, low-income British residents often accessed period products through schools or community centers. However, after the lockdown, they no longer had such access.

Bloody Good Period and Freedom4Girls, founded in 2016 and 2017, respectively, are two national charities that focus on improving the accessibility of period products and reducing the stigma around periods. Bloody Good Period distributes products to 40 drop-in services and groups in the U.K. and to more than 2,000 people each month. In 2020, both charities saw drastic increases in their products’ distributions. Before the pandemic, Bloody Good Period typically distributed around 5,000-period packs a month, but the number grew to 23,000 in the three months after March 2020. Similarly, Freedom4Girls’ production increased fivefold.

Scotland’s Efforts to Alleviate Period Poverty

In 2020, Scotland made history as the first country to make period products free for all. Monica Lennon, a member of the Scottish Parliament, introduced the Period Products Bill, which passed in November 2020. Lennon has been fighting for an end to period poverty since 2016 and was finally able to gain significant attention for the cause in 2020, when more girls began to suffer from period poverty due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Scottish government funded the period poverty campaign with 5.2 million euros. Of this money, the government set half a million euros aside to deliver free period products to residents of low-income neighborhoods.

Additionally, the U.K. government has created its own period poverty task force. The task force’s main goals are to destigmatize periods, educate people on periods and ensure that period products are widely accessible.

The Red Box Project

Similarly, in Portsmouth, England, three women decided to start a movement to end period poverty. They sympathized with low-income teenage girls who could not afford period products and recognized that period poverty impacts both current and future mental health and well-being. It started its campaign, the Red Box Project, in March 2017. The Red Box Project fills red boxes with pads and tampons and gives them to schools. The Red Box Project has placed boxes in more than 2,200 schools, colleges and youth clubs. As word of the project spread, its founders started to push for governmental action against period poverty. As a result of national efforts, in January 2020, Britain’s Department for Education made period products freely available to all state schools and colleges in England.

The actions that some are taking to reduce period poverty in the United Kingdom should provide other countries hope as they fight similar battles. With passionate, driven residents and new legislation, women around the world can begin to live in peace.

Shamolie Panjwani
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in VenezuelaMenstrual products are instrumental to a woman’s daily life. These products, deemed nonessential by many governments, affect women in their home life, work and education. However, up to two million Venezuelan girls and women end up victims of an economy in crisis, unable to afford the basic menstrual necessities. Several organizations are addressing period poverty in Venezuela.

Venezuela’s Inflation Crisis

Venezuela’s economy, once rich and booming, has fallen into a crisis over the past two decades. By 2014, 90% of the country’s earnings came from oil. However, as oil prices dropped, an economic collapse began. The value of the Venezuelan currency fell, and as a result, the cost of goods increased.

At the time, the newly inaugurated President Nicolas Maduro made the executive decision to print more money. This intended solution simply made the problem worse as an increased supply in currency only decreased its value even more. Maduro’s government continued to print more money to combat the falling prices, creating a dangerous cycle of hyperinflation. The current inflation rate is an estimated 9,986%, the highest inflation rate globally.

How Hyperinflation Impacts Menstrual Products

Due to hyperinflation, many women in Venezuela are affected by period poverty. One package of sanitary pads can cost more than a quarter of a month’s salary. A box of tampons is even more inaccessible, costing “up to three months’ salary.” Women who cannot afford these prices are forced to improvise by creating “temporary pads made of old socks, toilet paper or cardboard.” These makeshift menstrual products carry health implications for girls and women, putting them at heightened risk of toxic shock, urinary tract infections and other diseases.

Period Poverty Affects Education and Employment

Menstrual products affect not only a woman’s health but also every aspect of her daily life. Women who cannot afford products often have to miss school or work as a consequence. For school-aged girls, this can total 45 days of the school year missed. Since education is linked to poverty reduction, a lack of menstrual products exacerbates cycles of poverty. By missing work, womens’ incomes are reduced, intensifying conditions of poverty.

Sustainable Menstrual Solutions

Sustainable menstrual products may provide a solution to addressing period poverty in Venezuela. While standard pads and tampons have to be regularly purchased due to their disposable nature, menstrual cups are resilient and reusable, proving both effective and affordable.

Marian Gómez, the founder of The Cup Ve, created a menstrual cup that costs $10-$20 and lasts about seven years. This proves significantly cheaper long-term compared to buying monthly disposable menstrual products.

Sisters Marianne and Véronique Lahaie Luna also recognized the potential of menstrual cups in reducing period poverty in Venezuela. Their NGO, Lahai Luna Lezama, donated more than 400 menstrual cups to Venezuelan migrant women in 2019 alone. More than 300 menstrual cup recipients reported that the menstrual cups significantly transformed their lives.

Menstrual Education in Venezuela

Menstrual myths and stigma as well as a lack of menstrual education also exacerbate the issue of period poverty in Venezuela. To address this, Plan International hosts educational menstrual workshops for migrant girls and women. The organization distributed hygiene kits to more than 41,000 “Venezuelan people in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.” Plan International’s future plans include not just giving out resources but opening the conversation around menstruation.

The commitment and dedication of organizations help to combat period poverty in Venezuela, removing barriers to female advancement and development. By combating period poverty, global poverty is simultaneously reduced.

– Caroline Bersch
Photo: Unsplash