Combatting Period Poverty in PakistanPakistan, a country in South Asia, has the world’s fifth-largest population and spans more than 800,000 square kilometers. Pakistan has a long history of period poverty, stemming from its patriarchal hierarchy. Periods are shameful in Pakistan and often result in the ostracization of women in Pakistan.

Period Poverty in Pakistan

Period poverty is a severe issue around the world and is especially prevalent in Pakistan. A large part of the problem exists as a result of the many taboos that surround menstruation. In Pakistan, menstruation is seen as making women impure and dirty.

As a result, Pakistan’s culture as related to periods has prevented the population from educating women on menstruation and proper hygiene. As such, period poverty in Pakistan extends beyond just the financial discrepancies that hinder women from having access to proper menstrual products and extends into a “social period poverty” wherein women are deprived of education about menstruation.

Misinformation of Menstruation and Hygiene Practices

U-Report found that 49% of young women in Pakistan have little to no knowledge of periods before their first period. Likely, more than 20% of young women will only learn about menstruation in schools.

The myths that exist around menstruation actively disempower women. Part of the issue is that menstruation can often be a sign of good health in women. Menstruation taboos prevent women from realizing underlying symptoms of health conditions.

Period poverty in Pakistan also results in misinformation about menstruation. Part of this is because information about menstruation is often kept away from women. After all, it is believed withholding information preserves women’s chastity. This incorrect premise often results in unhygienic and dangerous practices for women. Many women use rags and share these rags and menstrual clothes with family members. Sharing of these rags can increase the risk of urinary infections and other health conditions.

Innovative Programs Fighting Period Poverty

Recently, many people have taken the initiative to work toward mitigating period poverty in Pakistan. One such tool has been apps like Girlythings, an app that allows women with disabilities to get period products delivered straight to their door. Their products include an “urgent kit,” which contains essentials such as disposable underwear, pads and bloodstain remover.

Another such tool to fight period poverty in Pakistan has been initiatives like the Menstrual Hygiene Innovation Challenge. This project, launched by UNICEF WASH and U-Report, plans to encourage young men and women to pitch their projects to educate their local communities on menstruation. One such project taken on by this challenge was a three-hour live chat. During this live chat, around 2500 people asked questions about menstruation. This live chat not only began to break down the taboos that surround openly discussing menstruation but also increases everyone’s knowledge and understanding of menstrual health.

Period poverty is a prevalent problem in Pakistan. Affecting women from both a financial and a societal point of view, people must begin to change the conversation around periods to ensure that all women in Pakistan can access menstruation information and menstrual products. However, by harnessing technology and taking initiatives, citizens all around Pakistan can work toward mitigating period poverty.

Anushka Somani
Photo: Flickr

Fighting Period Poverty in EthiopiaPeriod poverty, or the lack of access to affordable menstrual hygiene products, is a serious issue in many countries around the world. In Ethiopia, menstruation is still considered highly taboo and the topic is rarely discussed or taught in schools. This leads to stigma and shame for many girls that are exacerbated by the difficulty of obtaining sanitary products such as pads and tampons. In fact, 75% of Ethiopian women and girls do not have access to proper menstrual products and 25% cannot afford to use any sanitary products during their period, often resorting to using makeshift products such as dry grass or newspaper. The social stigma and poor hygiene surrounding menstruation create a barrier for young women receiving their education in Ethiopia. Throughout the country, 17% of girls have been forced to miss school due to the inability to properly manage their periods, although this number is closer to 50% in some impoverished rural areas. To combat period poverty in Ethiopia, local organizations are stepping up to fight the stigma and develop affordable menstrual hygiene products.

3 Organizations Fighting Period Poverty in Ethiopia

  1. Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory: An Ethiopian woman named Freweini Mebrahtu used her background in chemical engineering and her experiences growing up with period poverty in Ethiopia to create the Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory. This factory trains and employs local women to create washable, reusable sanitary pads that cost up to 90% less than average disposable pads. With proper care, the pads can last up to two years, making them more environmentally and financially sustainable for impoverished Ethiopian women. Mebrahtu’s factory creates 750,000 pads a year and has benefited nearly 800,000 women and girls since production began in 2009. Because of the widespread impact of her company, Mebrahtu was voted the CNN Hero of the Year in 2019.
  2. Dignity Period: Dignity Period is an organization started by American professor Dr. Lewis Wall that works to increase access to menstrual supplies and education in the Tigray and Afar regions of northern Ethiopia. This organization works in partnership with the Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory to create greater accessibility to menstrual products. Since 2014, Dignity Period has bought and distributed over 150,000 free menstrual hygiene kits containing reusable pads and underwear. They also work with Mekelle University in northern Ethiopia to hold menstrual health training and workshops for both male and female students. These workshops refute common myths and taboos and give students scientific information about how and why menstruation occurs to end widespread beliefs that periods are shameful or a curse. https://www.fairplanet.org/story/reusable-sanitary-pads-keep-ethiopias-girls-in-school/ Dignity Period has provided supplies and workshops to over 336,000 students so far and saw school absences among girls drop 24% in the areas where they focus their outreach.
  3. Noble Cup: Founded by Sara Eklund, the Noble Cub is the first Ethiopian menstrual cup brand and provides a safe, affordable option for women suffering from period poverty in Ethiopia. These products can last up to five years even with limited access to water or sanitation, making them financially sustainable in the long term. Noble Cup distributes these menstrual products and holds workshops with the slogan “Every Queen Bleeds” that teach girls about menstrual health and safety as well as female biology. The workshops aim to help eliminate the stigma surrounding menstruation in Ethiopia. Eklund also leads advocacy projects to make public facilities more period-friendly, such as adding trash cans to bathroom stalls, and scientific research posters on female reproductive health issues.

Although period poverty in Ethiopia is still a serious issue, these organizations are working to fight the stigma and better the lives of women and girls throughout the country.

Allie Beutel
Photo: Flickr 

Gen Z Activism Generation Z, born between the mid to late 90s and 2010, has proven to be highly outspoken and diverse. Succeeding the Millenials, this group is at the front lines of activism advocating for key issues including equality, global health, and mental awareness. Listed below are three ways Gen Z activism is changing the world.

Period Poverty

Periods can be uncomfortable to talk about, but they are a daily occurrence for women all over the world. Furthermore, many women are unable to access period products; homeless and disabled women, in particular, are often unable to get menstrual products. This sheds a light on a broader issue: according to UNICEF, 2.3 billion people live without access to basic sanitation services. In developing countries, only 27% of people have adequate hand washing facilities at home. This makes a period even more challenging to maintain safely.

Period products can be inaccessible for a variety of reasons. For example, the ‘Pink Tax’, an additional charge for women’s goods, provides a significant obstacle to obtaining period products. This might be exemplified by two toys, identical in every way except for their color. If the toy with the more traditionally feminine color is more expensive, this additional amount is called the “Pink Tax.” Unfortunately, many period products are needlessly expensive. According to UNICEF, many Bangladeshis families cannot afford products and use old clothing. In India, only 12% of menstruators have access to sanitary products, leaving many to use unsafe materials like rags or sawdust.

The non-profit youth powered organization, Period, exemplifies one way Gen Z activism is changing the world. Period has been able to set up chapters in 30 countries, push public schools to provide free menstrual products and expose unfair state taxes. Additionally, Period has donated products to prisons, shelters, and schools.

Global Health

Generation Z is going to make up about 20% of the world’s workforce by 2020. The use of technology is more prominent with each coming year; a trend that will likely continue as Generation Z enters the workforce. Technology is here to assist the healthcare industry. Convenience is the word of the new generation and the theme of the future healthcare industry. For example, this means more efficient and more accessible diagnoses and treatments. The use of technology has given doctors the ability to classify more illnesses and have more avenues for research.

Health information technology provides a bridge between the developing and the developed world. Health IT makes it possible to diagnose, treat, and inform people in rural and impoverished areas. SMS text messages can provide reminders for self-examinations and prevention; people are able to receive health information via SMS messages as long as they have a signal.

Employment

This new generation is also entering the workforce with new expectations. Generation Z activists are calling for a diverse and inclusive work environment. Generation Z is not loyal to any brand or store, more importantly, they shop for what is affordable and most impactful to communities or countries. Gen Z looks to serve, share, and impact others than serve themselves. This gives them the power to shape the success or downfall of businesses and drive corporate change.

Gen Z will be the biggest consumer segment worldwide until 2030. Therefore, companies will attract employees by improving their social, environmental, and economic standings. H&M, the Swedish fast-fashion house has launched a new website tool that lists details of their products’ suppliers and their factories. McDonalds has also committed to cage-free eggs and more vegan menu items on its global menus. These simple changes show what Gen Z is doing in the workforce and what more is still to come.

Gen Z is changing the way the world, shops, votes, works, and plays. The world is evolving rapidly and Gen Z is ready for all it has to offer. Right at the front lines, Gen Z activism is making progress towards the future.

Sienna Bahr
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Malawi
For young women in Malawi, their first period means scavenging for some spare cloth, clean paper or even a banana peel–anything to create a facsimile of a pad or tampon. In countries like Malawi, something as commonplace as a period or sanitary protection alters the course of a woman’s life. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world with approximately 50% of its people living below the poverty line. Moreover, for most households, a single sanitation product is equivalent to a day’s working wage. Simply put, it is often not even a consideration to purchase menstrual sanitary products when the compromise would be forfeiting affording food or water. As a result, period poverty in Malawi is prevalent.

COVID-19 has exacerbated period poverty in many countries, but ActionAid is fighting for women’s rights and the end of period poverty in Malawi. ActionAid is an international charity that emerged in 1972 and works at the frontlines with women and girls living in poverty around the world. It has been working to provide aid in Malawi since 1990.

Period Poverty in Malawi and Education

The inability for women and girls to access sanitary menstruation products has led to an increase in infection, disease and a lack of education among women in developing countries. Only 29% of girls stay in school up until reaching Standard Eight of their education.

Around 50% of school-age girls in Africa do not have access to sanitary products. When young women are able to go to school without the hindrance of insufficient sanitary products, the quality of life for women and families in developing countries increases exponentially. Women’s education has a positive correlation to decreased fertility rates, infant mortality rates and maternal mortality rates. A UN study ascertained that educating women serves as a critical factor in determining childhood survival rates. In short, tackling period poverty can in turn reduce other side effects of global poverty.

ActionAid’s Work to Eradicate Period Poverty in Malawi

In April 2020, ActionAid donated MK150 million to districts in Malawi that COVID-19 hit the hardest. It also donated hygiene materials such as sanitary towels, soap and clean undergarments. For the past few years, ActionAid has spearheaded projects that train women and girls how to make their own hygienic and reusable sanitary pads. Poverty causes period poverty but community stigmas regarding menstruation can also women and girls to miss out on school. In fact, UNICEF has estimated that one in 10 African girls of schooling age does not attend school during menstruation. Young women in Africa find it difficult to continue school or attend school during their period due to the burden that comes with having to constantly wash and reuse unsuitable sanitary protection.

In addition to equipping women and girls with the skills necessary to make their own sanitary pads, ActionAid also facilitates girls’ clubs and safe spaces in schools that provide information and assistance. ActionAid safe spaces exist across Africa and provide a private space where women can receive medical help, hygiene kits and emotional support. ActionAid has changed the lives of women and girls in Malawi for the better. When asked how ActionAid has impacted her, one 17-year-old Malawi girl replied, “I am able to stand in class without being conscious of what is behind me and can even play netball. I’m really happy and [ActionAid] helps a lot.”

While ActionAid is not the only organization combating period poverty in Malawi, the work it has accomplished has already transformed the stigma. Moreover, it has improved how people in Malawi treat menstruation and women’s rights.

– Nina Forest
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Guatemala As young girls grow up in Guatemala, they are met with a challenge: their menstruation cycle. Period poverty in Guatemala weighs heavily on the country. The lack of access to hygiene management education and proper sanitation tools forces young girls out of school for days at a time.  However, as technology evolves and resources are found, many organizations are working to end period poverty in Guatemala and beyond.

Days For Girls

Days For Girls commits to supporting women in girlhood and throughout the rest of their lives. The organization begins this process by providing a Days For Girls (DFG) Kit, education on hygiene and sanitation, training and general support. Additionally, the group spreads awareness through global partnerships, mobilizing volunteer networks and working toward destigmatizing menstruation.

The DFG Kit consists of a multitude of necessities for a period. All the products are reusable, easily washable and durable. In fact, users of the patented kit say the items can last up to three years. Specifically, these kits have been made to use a small amount of water, dry quickly and keep users comfortable while going about their daily lives. Furthermore, Days For Girl also hand makes the kits and the bags they come in, giving them a touch of beauty.

Thus far, Days For Girls has touched the lives of more than 1.7 million females. The organization’s reach is spread across more than 140 countries, with more than a thousand mobilizing teams and chapters. Currently, they have over 15 countries with enterprises. Importantly, the group has an office stationed in Guatemala, focused on growing the team and production in the country.

GRACE Project (Guatemalan Rural Adult and Children’s Education)

The GRACE Project stems from a collaboration of groups in Southwest Florida. The project aims to educate, train and help employ the local Guatemalan women. The organization develops and implements workshops and home visits where they provide educational materials on reproductive health and local resources.

In addition to education, The GRACE Project creates handmade menstruation kits. All the products are reusable, washable and long-lasting.

Included in the kit there are:

  • Fertility bracelets with instructions
  • Shields that are barriers for any leakage
  • Flannel cotton pads
  • Soap
  • Gallon bag for washing use
  • Underwear

In the past year, 500 of the kits were given to women all over Guatemala. Along with these, the project has also passed out 800 Reproductive Health Kits within Central America. The kit provides up to three years’ worth of period products and a lifetime of birth control. The GRACE Project continues to grow production and delivery methods through workshops in Guatemala.

SERniña

SERniña Founder, Danielle Skogen, lived in Guatemala for three years working as a teacher. During her time, she noticed a need for health and hygiene education. Often, Skogen would watch girls drop out of school due to a lack of access to proper sanitary items and a lack of support from their community. Thus, she developed SERniña as an educational support program.

The SERniña program works with already established educational organizations to bring about curriculums to educate and help eradicate period poverty in Guatemala. The organization teaches a range of topics such as:

  • Understanding Your Human Rights
  • Sexual & Menstrual Health
  • Financial Literacy
  • Goal-setting

In the workshops, facilitators work with the women to be confident and take care of their hygienic needs. Trained local women who are certified facilitators for SERniña teach all of the organization’s lessons. The program allows for conversations and participation in a safe space with specific lessons focused on self-advocacy, self-care and overall self-love.  As a result, the program has delivered more than 400 hours of workshops to 180 girls and counting.

As shown above, the efforts of each organization play an important role in the Guatemalan community. Education, access and support truly uplift the local women. The work to eradicate period poverty in Guatemala can continue thanks to aid from organizations like these.

Sallie Blackmon
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in FranceMenstruation shame and period poverty have become hot topics in France in recent years. Monthly tampons, pads and menstrual pain medications can be a heavy financial burden for an impoverished woman. As Règles élémentaires, a leading charitable association fighting against period poverty in France estimates, a woman has to spend around €10,000 to €20,000 on menstrual products in her lifetime.

Multiple campaigns took place in the early 2010s to appeal for more affordable sanitary products, mainly by calling for the lowering of the tampon tax. At the time, tampons were taxed as a luxury item, at 20%. In 2016, France became the first country in Europe to reduce the tampon tax to 5.5%. This brought menstrual products in line with other primary-need products such as shampoo or toilet paper.

The Labour Code in France states that an employer must “provide workers with the means to ensure their individual cleanliness.” However, according to the French Institute for Public Opinion (IFOP), there are still 1.7 million French women suffering from period poverty in 2019.

Feminist Organizations

Règles élémentaires has been collecting hygiene products for impoverished women in need since 2015. It is the first French association that fights against period poverty as well as menstrual taboo. The success of this association soon inspired many more initiatives in France to address period poverty. For instance, a grocery store at Paris-Diderot University offers sanitary products at only 10% of the selling price to students with economic difficulties.

The student health insurance company, La Mutuelle Des Étudiants (LMDE) started to include sanitary protection reimbursement for up to €20-25 per year. A women’s health charity, ADSF, distributes sanitary kits to women in need. This especially targets homeless shelters where women are often too reluctant to ask for them. “We now know that sanitary pads must be included in the kits distributed at shelters – and not just razors, as used to be the case when people associated homelessness with males only,” the group explains.

Government Policies

The feminist organizations and their activities gradually brought period poverty to the government’s attention. Two members of France’s National Assembly drafted a 107-page report on how to lift menstrual taboos and alleviate period poverty. After the report, Gender Equality Minister Marlène Schiappa and her colleague Christelle Dubos announced in early 2020 that the French government will carry out a one-year trial of free distribution of hygienic products for women in schools, hospitals, shelters and prisons. The budget will be €1 million. The initiative will start in the Île-de-France region as soon as the end of October 2020. In the first phase of the experiment, the region has chosen 31 high schools based on their overall percentage of female students and scholarship recipients. The regional government will provide these chosen schools free organic sanitary products and dispensers.

French menstrual activists are still advocating that social security should cover all menstrual products, as it does for condoms. They have also devised a plan of vouchers and pre-paid cards for women in need to make their own intimate choices, rather than the government deciding which product they should receive.  While great strides have been made to alleviate the financial burden and social stigma as it pertains to periods, there is much more to do to further alleviate period poverty in France.

Jingyan Zhang
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Malaysia
Period poverty in Malaysia has caused a wide health gap for its lower-income families, but recent action by local organizations and legislation has sought to bring change.

Period poverty describes the inaccessibility of menstruation products and washing facilities to those who menstruate, often resulting in missing school days and job opportunities. Over 500 million women and girls face period poverty across the globe each month. While there are no exact statistics on how many people experience period poverty in Malaysia, organizations such as the NGO MyCorps Alumni and All Women’s Action Society have stepped up to tackle the problem and help those in need.

Accessibility to Supplies

For those who cannot afford the cost of menstruation products every month, many turn to using alternate methods that can pose harm. Malaysia’s National Population and Development Board reported that lower-income women may use coconut husks or newspapers for their periods. Local organizations have stepped up to tackle period poverty in Malaysia in order to supply sanitary products to all who need them.

The Malaysian NGO MyCorps Alumni created the Bunga Pads initiative in July 2019, creating a program to provide sanitary pads to lower-income female students. Fitriyati Bakri, the creator of the initiative, received inspiration from a trip to Bangladesh where she spoke with a few school girls and learned of their struggles attending school while they had their periods. Bakri created a program for Bangladeshi women by teaching them how to make reusable pads and brought it back to Malaysia when she realized how prominent the issue was in lower-income communities. The pads comprise of environmentally friendly bamboo material and can last a person 3-5 years of use.

Movement Restrictions

Malaysia’s Movement Control Order to help contain the COVID-19 outbreak has increased the difficulty of women and girls attaining the products that they need. Restrictions consist of limited travel and only leaving for essential items, of which sanitary pads are not included.

The All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) of Malaysia set out to provide much needed sanitary products to women who were unable to obtain them due to restricted movement. AWAM emerged as a women’s rights organization, educating and providing resources for women’s health, domestic violence and sexual harassment.

Kotex Malaysia donated over 500 pads to AWAM for its 35-year anniversary dinner. Though the dinner was canceled due to COVID-19, AWAM was able to distribute the pads in the Dun Kampung Tunku. These pads will allow increased mobility to those unable to acquire them as essential items.

Legislation

An additional obstacle to period justice in Malaysia is the taxation on menstruation products. The added cost makes it more difficult for lower-income women to buy them.

The Malaysian government removed the tax on menstrual products such as tampons and sanitary napkins on June 1, 2018. The tax on period products in Malaysia came into effect in 2015 but met with some online backlash from girls and women across the country insisting the tax would reduce accessibility to low-income households.

Malaysia joins multiple countries that have recently repealed their taxes on menstruation products, including Australia, along with India and Canada. Scotland recently became the first country in the world to provide free period products for the country. The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill passed on Nov. 24, 2020, ensuring that schools, universities and local authorities must provide period products to those who need them.

Although Malaysia has not passed a similar bill, lawmakers in the country are calling on their government to provide research into period poverty within the nation. Hannah Yeoh, Deputy of the Women, Family and Community Ministry, called on the Education Ministry to research how period poverty affects women and girls’ education and health in November 2019.

While Malaysia still has some ways to go regarding period poverty, it has made strides towards period justice at both the local and legislative levels.

– June Noyes
Photo: Flickr

Period poverty in ChinaThe monthly cost of purchasing menstrual sanitary products is not a small amount for females worldwide. “Period Poverty” refers to the inability to afford access to pads, tampons, or liners to manage menstrual bleeding. A campaign in China, is working on addressing period poverty for its girls and women. However, it still remains a women’s rights issue globally.

The General Problem

The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) reports that around 10% of young women around the world are now unable to afford period protection. FIGO also found that 12% of women have to improvise with devices that are potentially ineffective and unsafe. According to UNICEF, there are more than 500 million females that lack a proper place to change their sanitary protection during their period. Period poverty causes long-term impacts of health and hygiene for girls and women. Time management, the chance of receiving education and employment are also affected by period poverty. All of these factors influence a woman’s lifelong development and wellbeing.

Period Poverty in China

The situation of period poverty in China is not much different. Many women and young girls, especially in rural areas, cannot afford feminine hygiene products. Instead of sanitary pads, impoverished women have to use toilet paper or old cloth. Any available yet unsafe materials on hand — even bark for some women in extreme poverty — are substituted to get through the period. Unfortunately, the lack of basic menstrual knowledge and the common menstruation taboo in China only worsen the situation. It is difficult and embarrassing to practice optimal hygiene with dignity in China. As a result, many girls in rural China skip classes or even leave school once they start menstruating.

Campaign for a lower tampon tax

In recent years, the Chinese public is growing more aware of period poverty in China. They are calling for more affordable sanitary products. Additionally, the public advocates for more humanitarian public health policies that take women’s biological needs into accounts. As of 2020, the Chinese government regulates a 13% sales tax on feminine sanitary products. That is 4% higher than the 9% tax for essential daily necessities such as grain, water and contraceptives.

Many other countries, including India and Malaysia, have either exempted or reduced the tax on sanitary products. They have done so for the sake of gender equality. In response, a couple of online campaigns emerged in China in the past few years. The campaigns appeal for a lower tampon tax in the country.

The “Stand by Her” Project

Before the national public health policy can ameliorate, some philanthropists and social organizations have jumped to the cause. They have stood up first to help the low-income women in underdeveloped regions. So far, the “Stand by Her” is one of the most well-known and large-scale projects that deal with period poverty in China.

Liang Yu Stacey, a 24-year-old Chinese feminist activist, initiated the “Reassurance for Sisters Fighting the Virus” online campaign in early 2020. She aimed to raise money to provide feminine sanitary products for the health care workers fighting against COVID-19. The project then extended to a broader scale and evolved into “Stand by Her.”

“Stand by Her” is a voluntary foundation that coordinates donation, procurement and distribution of hygiene products to under-age girls in impoverished provinces. The foundation regularly sends sanitary pads to women around China. In addition, the project also hands out brochures and holds lectures in middle schools to popularize menstruation and sex education. In the first phase of 2020-2021, the team continues to plan to help more than 6,000 girls from 33 schools across China. Within 3 days of opening the donation portals, “Stand by Her” raised 368,700 RMB (54,500 USD).

The online conversations, campaigns and donations display some positive signals in the area of menstruation. Feminine hygiene is gradually breaking away from the conventional social taboo. Reducing tax on women’s menstrual products would be a win for women’s rights in China.

– Jingyan Zhang
Photo: Flickr

Pandemic’s Effects On Women
As COVID-19 forces the world into lockdown, people are scrambling to provide medical services and save toppling economies. The pandemic affects schools and workplaces, and everyone is struggling to adjust to this new way of life. In the midst of all the chaos, some problems are forgotten. The pandemic’s effects on women, which are especially bad, are buried underneath the plethora of other challenges. Two of the greatest issues they are facing are period poverty and domestic violence, both of which the pandemic has exacerbated.

Period Poverty

Period poverty manifests in a lack of access to restrooms, sanitary products, education on menstrual hygiene and improper waste management. Now, with disrupted supply chains of period products, increased financial strain and lockdowns making it difficult to go out and purchase basic amenities, women are having a harder time than ever accessing these necessities. Forced to make do with what they have, they put themselves at risk of infections and diseases, including cervical cancer.

High costs and taxation are also major contributors to period poverty. In the U.S., menstrual products are subject to tax in many states. Though every bit as important, they are eligible to be taxed while other essentials, like food and medicine, are not. Only nine out of 50 states in the U.S. have policies against taxing menstrual products. Even without tax, the cost is too much for those living in poverty to afford. Approximately 12 million women between the ages of 12 and 52 in the U.S. are living below the poverty line and unable to purchase the products they need.

Fortunately, there are people and organizations dedicated to making period products more affordable. Under the CARES Act, menstrual products are covered under health savings and flexible spending accounts, which set aside pre-tax income that can be spent on important health services. However, where legislation and policies fall short, nonprofit organizations and charities are stepping in. Groups distributing products to women in need include I Support the Girls and PERIOD. They are also helping to raise awareness about the pandemic’s effects on women.

Domestic Violence

Increased domestic violence is another appalling result of the pandemic. Due to stay-at-home orders, many women and children are stuck with their abusers. An estimation by the United Nations Population Fund predicts that six months of lockdowns will cause 31 million more cases of gender-based violence. According to the National Hotline on Combating Domestic Violence, calls increased by 25% during the first two weeks of quarantine. Lockdowns also make it difficult for survivors and victims of domestic abuse to receive the treatment and consolation they need.

Luckily, people have begun to take note of these issues. Actress Charlize Theron’s campaign, Together For Her, is working to address the additional cases of gender-based violence resulting from the lockdowns around the globe. In an interview with Vogue, Charlize stated that she is distributing funds from the Together For Her campaign to “shelters, psychosocial support and counseling, helplines, crisis intervention, sexual and reproductive health services, community-based prevention, and advocacy work to address gender-based violence.”

More than 50 prominent female celebrities in the fields of film, sports, music and more have shown support to Charlize’s campaign. Fellow actress Mariska Hargitay has contributed to Together for Her and says about the movement, “As someone who has worked on gender-based violence issues for two decades, I am proud to join such a powerful group of women to shine a light on the challenges facing survivors of domestic violence–not just during this pandemic but every day.” Together for Her is giving women a voice and uniting them in the face of difficulty.

Moving Forward

COVID-19 has affected lives around the world but has hit some groups harder than others, especially women. Global lockdowns have greatly amplified the issues of period poverty and domestic violence, and women and children are more vulnerable than ever. Fortunately, organizations are working to address the pandemic’s effects on women, supplying menstrual products and giving support to those who need it. Moving forward, it is essential that these efforts continue. Though times are hard, the persistence and dedication of the people behind these movements can prevail.

Alison Ding
Photo: Flickr

Fighting Period Poverty in TanzaniaPeriod poverty, or the inability to access sanitary products for menstruation, remains a problem in many impoverished areas of the world, with millions of women and girls denied access to products and forced to stop attended school during their menstrual cycles. This problem persists in Tanzania, where only 8% of girls finish secondary school and the average menstruating student misses three to four classes during each cycle. Menstruation is a taboo subject in many developing countries, teaching young girls that their cycles are unhealthy, dirty or something to hide and be ashamed of. However, several organizations are fighting period poverty in Tanzania to ensure that all girls receive the sanitary products and education they need to continue school and defeat the stigma around menstruation. UNFPA Tanzania, WomensChoice Industries and Made With Hope are just a handful of the groups working to make sure that period poverty in Tanzania becomes a thing of the past.

UNFPA Tanzania is Educating Both Girls and Boys on Menstruation

The United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) branch in Tanzania has noted the lack of education surrounding menstruation for both men and women. In various places throughout the nation, the organization has noted girls being taught that menstruation is shameful and should be hidden (even from other women) or that they are taught nothing about it at all. That is why UNFPA Tanzania has enacted various programs in the country’s Kigoma region to normalize education around menstruation for both sexes. These initiatives include Ujana Wangu Nguvu Yangu (My Youth, My Power), a four-year series of classes that teach Tanzanian adolescents about sexual and reproductive health, including menstruation.

In addition to initiating these programs, UNFPA has taken further steps to ensure that period poverty in Tanzania does not worsen due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has kept its Adolescent and Youth Centers open with proper social distancing protocols in place so that women and girls in Tanzania still have access to the sanitary products and support they need during their menstrual cycles.

WomensChoice Industries

Lucy Odiwa, a Kenyan woman, grew up surrounded by harmful stigma about menstruation. This experience inspired her to establish WomensChoice Industries, which creates reusable sanitary products in order to decrease period poverty in Tanzania and ensure that girls in the region do not grow up in the same way she did.

Many women in rural Tanzania cannot afford sanitary products so Odiwa began selling her Salama pads, which can be reused for up to three years, for Sh5,000 ($2). In addition to the pads, WomensChoice Industries also manufactures tampons, breast pads and diapers for children and adults, all at a low cost so that they are more accessible to Tanzania’s low-income communities.

And the work does not stop there. Like UNFPA, WomensChoice Industries provides reproductive education to Tanzanian boys and girls. Representatives from the organization travel across the region to reduce the stigma around menstruation and ensure that adolescent girls are aware of their own sexual and reproductive health. The group has reached over 1.8 million women with its menstrual health programs as well as 1.2 million with its affordable and reusable sanitary products.

Made With Hope

Made With Hope is an organization based in the United Kingdom that focuses on increasing access to education for children in Tanzania, whether that be building schools or working to improve those already implemented by the government. As girls frequently miss class due to their menstrual cycles, the organization has made it a priority to combat period poverty. In addition to increasing education surrounding menstruation, Made With Hope has created a clean space in the schools it has built for girls to change their sanitary products safely. It has also helped to create local income-generating programs that manufacture these products. The organization has also worked to spread awareness of period poverty in Tanzania around the United Kingdom, inspiring others to get involved with the issue, even from abroad.

While period poverty in Tanzania remains an issue, UNFPA Tanzania, WomensChoice Industries and Made With Hope are all fighting period poverty in Tanzania to ensure that all Tanzanian women and girls receive the sanitary products and menstrual health education they need.

– Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr