Address Period Poverty
Period poverty affects those who menstruate in both developing and developed countries. According to the United Nations Population Fund, “period poverty describes the struggle many low-income women and girls face while trying to afford menstrual products.” Period poverty also includes a lack of access to hygiene and sanitation facilities to properly manage menstruation. The World Bank highlights that, across the world, “an estimated 500 million lack access to menstrual products and adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene management.” Furthermore, “1.25 billion women and girls have no access to a safe, private toilet” and 526 million females have no access to any toilet. Despite this form of poverty affecting women and girls globally, period poverty affects developing countries the most. In many developing countries, 50% of all females resort to using “items like rags, grass and paper” to manage their menstruation rather than safe sanitary products, a 2022 article by ActionAid said. For these reasons, campaigns for governments to address period poverty are essential.

Comments from a Youth Campaigner

Sixth former Ellie Massey is a former member of the Youth Parliament for Northern Ireland. Massey played an instrumental role in campaigning for Northern Ireland to pass legislation for the free provision of sanitary products. In an interview with The Borgen Project, she highlighted that there needs to be further progress on the scheme within universities. Many tertiary-level students live away from their families and are already facing student debt in order to access university education, meaning that “period products are a lot less accessible for them.”

Massey speaks on useful techniques campaigners can use when campaigning to address period poverty. For instance, writing a personal plea for politicians and lawmakers to address the issue as opposed to “generic letters” that flood their inboxes.

Massey detailed that within a personal plea regarding addressing period poverty should be reasons why it is the politician’s responsibility to make legislative progress on the issue and specific details on the actions the politician can take to help.

During her time of campaigning for progress in the realm of period poverty in the United Kingdom, she wrote a letter to the education minister at the time, Peter Weir, and reached out to organizations such as the Human Rights Commission. She also interviewed students that period poverty affected and included these personal quotes in her letter to give it more standing.

Massey said that advocacy on the issue works better via in-person meetings or Zoom as politicians can put a face to a name and campaigners tend to argue points better when talking face-to-face. Once politicians actually realize the devastating impact of the issue, most of them are happy to help, so it is just about getting the message across in the most effective and impactful way.

Campaigning for Change

Amika George is a British youth activist who at the age of 17 began the Free Periods campaign in the U.K. to address period poverty and its impacts on girls’ education. The campaign began as an online petition after George learned that students in the U.K. would miss as much as a week of school per month due to the inability to afford sanitary products while menstruating.

Speaking on the issue, the activist commented to Cherwell that “the existence of period poverty only came to public consciousness as recently as [2018] when reports of girls routinely missing school because they couldn’t afford menstrual products were thrust into the media glare.”

“What’s been depressing since then is the lack of any affirmative action by the government, despite outrage and horror that girls were using socks stuffed with tissue or newspaper,” George said. The petition called on the U.K. government to take action by providing free period products to students who are eligible for free school meals and to work toward addressing period poverty.

Organizations Addressing Period Poverty Internationally

The Gift Wellness Foundation works to address period poverty in the U.K. and beyond. In August 2022, volunteers and Dr. Zareen Roohi Ahmed, the Foundation’s chair, delivered sanitary products to Syrian women across six refugee camps in Lebanon. The delivery included 500 boxes of menstrual products as well other essentials such as “shampoo, soap and washing powder.”

Commenting on the trip to Lebanon, Roohi Ahmed said on the Foundation’s website that the Syrian women refugees showed inspiring “resilience and bravery in the face of such upheaval.” However, “no one should be without basic menstrual products. The children in these camps need their mums to be empowered if they are to have any future at all.”

The Gift Wellness Foundation also donated sanitary pads to Rohingya women in Bangladesh. This took place within Cox’s Bazaar refugee camp, which is “the largest refugee camp in the world.” The Communities Against Poverty (CAP) Foundation runs a women’s health center in the camp, where many women give birth. In fact, “60,000 Rohingya women and young girls have given birth in the camp after being raped in Myanmar.”

The Gift Wellness Foundation provided more than 10,000 pads to support these women. Iqra International partners with the Foundation to give out sanitary pads in schools across the most impoverished areas of Bangladesh.

Looking Ahead

In the face of alarming statistics regarding period poverty and the impacts on female health and education, young activists and campaigners are taking a stand to create change.

– Claire Dickson
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Zambia
The Republic of Zambia is a landlocked nation located in Southern Africa. More than 60% of the population lives below the poverty line, with 40% living in extreme poverty. This makes it very difficult to afford basic health necessities such as menstruation products. Here is everything to know about period poverty in Zambia.

Period Poverty

Period poverty is defined by the lack of access to menstrual products, hygiene facilities, waste management and education. Limited access to safe, high-quality menstruation products is an issue that many people who menstruate and are living below the poverty line face around the world. Users must often purchase period supplies in bulk or frequently which can lead to users being economically vulnerable and unable to afford other necessities. This leads to choices that no menstruating person should have to make on whether they can afford to purchase period products or if they will have to forgo them for another essential item.

A Human Rights Issue

Globally, people lack access to education, resources and facilities to manage their periods safely and with decency. Oftentimes, this can cause people who menstruate to miss work or school which can have long-lasting educational and economic consequences down the line. Period poverty is an issue of human rights. Human rights are rights that every human being has an entitlement to by virtue of their dignity. With this, menstruation is inherently related to human dignity. When people cannot access safe and effective means for managing their menstruation, they are not able to menstruate with dignity. As a result, period poverty is a violation of the human rights of those who menstruate.

Period Poverty in Zambia

Period poverty in Zambia has become an increasing issue that too many across the nation have felt. Unhygienic menstrual materials can cause major health issues and often schools, especially in rural Zambia lack adequate facilities for one to practice menstrual hygiene. As a result of this, many have to manage their menstruation in unsanitary ways. In some instances, people have even reported sitting on sand piles during their menses.

Period poverty in Zambia, however, goes beyond just health but also can have negative consequences on one’s education, gender equality and productivity. If a student misses enough days of school as a result of their period, this can lead to them falling behind and potentially dropping out. An Educational Statistical Bulletin found that the percentage of girls between grades one to nine that dropped out was an estimated 2.7%, whereas boys in those grades made up 1.88%. This gap has an association with ineffective menstrual management and the stigma people who menstruate face surrounding menstruation. It also shows the potential for increasing gender inequality as boys are staying in school longer. As a result, they will have access to more education and economic opportunities in the future. Reusable pads, although a potential solution to frequently purchasing menstrual hygiene products are often not affordable to those who need them most.

Some Good News

In recent years, there has been an increase in nonprofit organizations, such as the African Education Program, that are working to provide people who menstruate with resources and period products. The African Education Program was born out of a highschool cafeteria in 2002 in the United States and since its founding has had a strong focus on menstrual health. Today, more than 700 children in Zambia take advantage of their programs and they have created the Amos Youth Center in Kafue, Zambia. The purpose of this Center is to provide a safe, creative educational space for students.

One campaign from the African Education Program called “Reuse, Rise, Rejoice,” is working to ensure that all people who experience periods have access to hygiene products. It raised money to provide 200 girls in Zambia with an individual at-home menstrual health visit, a pack of five reusable pads, and a menstrual cup in 2020. The Program continues today to raise money to provide girls in Zambia with these menstrual resources.

The Zambian Government has also stepped in to help combat the issue of period poverty in Zambia. In 2016, the government pledged to allocate more funds to ensure that menstruation does not limit Zambians’ ability to go to school. However, external sources are still vital in helping end period poverty in Zambia.

While much progress is still necessary to achieve a full and equitable end to period poverty in Zambia, groups like the African Education Program offer hope for the future. A future in which the right to menstruate is a universally recognized human right and all those who menstruate can do so with dignity.

– Emma Cook
Photo: Flickr

Cost of Living Crisis
Period poverty is not a new issue. In the U.K., it has been around for countless years, causing profound problems for those that suffer from it. However, the
cost of living crisis, something which has involved the prices of essential items increasing and wages and disposable income falling, has exacerbated it. The cost of living crisis in the U.K. has only worsened the period poverty.

The Crisis

The Institute for Government refers to the cost of living crisis in the U.K. as being the fall in ‘real’ disposable incomes, something caused by high inflation going above wages. The arrival of this crisis in the U.K. is an economic consequence of two major events that have occurred over the last two years. The events are the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian Invasion of Ukraine. The former has prompted the largest recession in modern times, with gross domestic product (GDP) declining by 9.7% in 2020, the steepest since 1948, while the latter has placed the economy at risk. The invasion has contributed to even more debt, the plunging of the pound’s value and perhaps the most far-reaching consequence, increased costs, especially in relation to household necessities (including, energy, petrol and food).

It is no mystery that the crisis will affect poorer households in the U.K. more than richer ones. The households experience higher inflation rates at 10.9% on average than richer households at 7.9%. Despite this not seeming like a large difference, increasing costs mean that the poorest households are unable to afford and thus, utilize household necessities. One such necessity is period products.

Period Poverty

Period poverty is a global problem, even in the industrialized and wealthy west, including the U.K. The phenomenon describes the struggle that many women and girls, especially those from low-income backgrounds, face when accessing period products. It does not relate only to sanitary products, such as pads and tampons, but other related costs such as pain medication and underwear.

Difficulty in affording these products has profound consequences on the lives of sufferers. Oftentimes, this issue threatens education and economic opportunities as girls and women have to stay at home from school and work. Plan International estimates that more than 137,000 girls across the U.K. have missed school days due to period poverty. This impact justifies the economic, social and political ramifications of period poverty.

The Cost of Living Crisis and Period Poverty in the UK

The cost of living crisis in the U.K. has had a profound impact on period poverty sufferers. In the U.K., period poverty affects one in three girls. Due to high production costs because of inflation, many supermarkets are forced to increase the prices of products. For instance, Tesco has doubled the price of its least expensive period product (pads) from 23 pence a pack to 42 pence. Due to the high costs, many women and girls have had to prioritize other essential items (food and energy) over period products, forcing them to keep current sanitary products in for longer or continuously using tissues.

The crisis has also increased the demand for ‘hygiene banks,’ services that provide free products. In the first 3 months of 2022, the charity Bloody Good Period reported a 78% increase in this, with products provided rising from 7,452 packs in 2020 to 13,284. The banks emerged to bridge the financial constraints that charities that typically provide period products were facing by making period products available themselves.

Two Organizations Making a Change

The cost of living crisis and its impact on period poverty in the U.K. justifies the fact that the phenomenon does not only appear in the developing world. Fortunately, in the U.K., there are organizations working to support those that suffer from the phenomenon.

Bloody Good Period

Bloody Good Period originated with the aim of creating a more sustainable flow of menstrual products. Since its founding in 2016, the organization has worked with more than 100 organizations across England and Wales, supporting more and more women and girls. It does this in four ways:

  • Delivering: Helping to provide menstrual supplies to those that suffer from period poverty.
  • Educating: Providing sexual and reproductive health education to those that cannot access it.
  • Normalizing: Fighting to eradicate the shame and stigma around menstruation and period poverty.
  • Amplifying: Demanding free treatment for those that bleed.

Bloody Good Period’s continuous usage of these four ways has been successful in enabling the organization to carry out its aim to recognize “the trauma and anxiety caused by not having access to essential menstrual products.”

Period Poverty UK

The founder of Gift Wellness Limited, Dr. Zareen Roohi Ahmed, established Period Poverty U.K. in 2013 with the aim of eradicating period poverty by 2025.

In March 2022, the organization launched a fundraiser called Red Rebel Day to end period poverty. It had two core objectives:

  • To raise £50,000 to supply 12,000 period products to women in need, including homeless women in the U.K. and refugees in war-torn countries.
  • To campaign for period products to make them available free of charge in all public spaces across the U.K.

This fundraiser has been successful in providing sanitary products to homeless women, students and women in low-income employment.

The rise in those suffering from period poverty and the U.K. cost of living crisis cannot be separated. The former has been present and wide-ranging for years, while the latter has ensured that the costs of essential period products have increased at exponential rates. Nevertheless, the increase of organizations working to support those that suffer from period poverty has grown and is continuing to grow, something which presents a hopefully more optimistic future.

– Harkiran Bharij
Photo: Flickr

premature hysterectomies in IndiaThe stigma surrounding menstrual periods continues to plague India. Due to the frequent lack of sex education and conversation about periods, many Indian girls grossly lack education about their cycles.  Local period taboos and social media moral police trolls widely shame girls about their menstruation. In fact, period taboo is leading to premature hysterectomies in India.

These period taboos significantly impact poorer women living in rural areas including Bend and  Sangli. These women migrate to the more affluent western “sugar belt” districts to work for six months as cutters in the sugar cane fields.  Cane cutting contractors hesitate to employ women who menstruate because they assume that they will miss a day or two a month due to their periods.

Because sugar cane cutting is frequently a family’s primary source of income in rural India, thousands of menstruating women have been electing to have hysterectomies, which are irreversible surgeries, to eliminate the “problem” of their period.

Indian Period Taboos

Menstruating women are frequently banned from religious, social and work environments during their cycles.  Indian society considers periods impure and girls who have their periods dirty.  Uneducated parents rarely prepare their daughters for their menstrual cycles, so when they arrive, fear and anxiety plague young women. Due to unsanitary lavatories and lack of access to sanitary products, 23 million Indian girls drop out of school after they get their periods. They also fear mocking from classmates for staining.

What is a Hysterectomy?

A hysterectomy is a surgical procedure that results in the removal of a woman’s uterus and, in some cases, her ovaries and fallopian tubes. In doing so, a woman loses the ability to become pregnant, will not menstruate and may experience a reduction in hormone production.  After undergoing a premature hysterectomy, many women must undergo hormone therapy to stay healthy and prevent further health complications.

Premature Hysterectomies in Rural India

In rural India many women feel as if they must eliminate their menstrual cycles entirely in order to work. Furthermore, due to the lack of education on the subject of menstrual cycles, doctors at private hospitals easily persuade women to undergo the expensive procedure in order to continue working as cane cutters.  A large percentage of those women are in their 20s and 30s, far younger than the age when experts usually recommend hysterectomies.

Roli Srivastava, author of the column. “Pushed into Hysterectomies” in The Hindu, describes a distinct pattern:  Private hospital doctors coerce poor illiterate women into a premature hysterectomy. These women, who present with easily treatable symptoms such as white discharge, an irregular period or bad cramps willingly elect hysterectomies so they won’t miss work. As she also explains, “their willingness to undergo the procedure stems from the fear of cancer (which doctors convince them of) to the belief that their uteruses are of no use once they have had children.”

A “Moneymaking Racket”

According to Srivastava, hysterectomies are a “moneymaking racket” in India for private hospitals. When illiterate rural women with menstrual cramps and heavy bleeding go to clinics, the doctors don’t give them options.  They don’t even let them consult their families, and they are not told the cause of their problems or informed about the procedure.  They often don’t know if their ovaries have been removed as well as their uterus.  The operation is expensive, and many rural clients’ insurance does not cover the operation.  Families need to go to moneylenders to get the funds for the operation.  In Maharashtra, the average cost of a hysterectomy is $598 and the average daily wage for a female worker is $2.98.

The Numbers

According to Indian Media, over a three-year period, more than 4,500 young women had premature hysterectomies in the Beed district alone. And the numbers are going up.  A 2018 government survey found that 22,000 women between 18 and 49 had hysterectomies. In one study that interviewed 200 women, 69% were unsure or uninformed of the nature of whether their procedure had removed their whole uterus or just their ovaries.

The Solution

Education about menstruation and personal hygiene is the key lever to reducing period taboo and premature hysterectomies in India. Education will enable more women to exert their rights in many other areas as well such as choosing contraceptives and making their own informed health decisions.  Photographer Niraj Gera, writes, “It is time we realize that menstruation is just a biological process and the secrecy surrounding it must go. It is important to normalize menstruation and destroy taboos around this natural process” As a strong advocate for period education he concludes, “Talking is all it takes to begin a transformation and it’s time we did it.”

– Opal Vitharana
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Period Poverty in Africa
Period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products and hygiene facilities to allow women to manage the monthly duration of menstruation properly. For many girls in Africa, having their period once a month includes negative connotations meaning they may have to stay home from school and are at risk of health issues due to a lack of access to sanitary products. Current statistics that UNESCO collected have revealed that one in 10 African girls miss school because their schools have inadequate toilet facilities – also providing them with no access to sanitary products. However, many activist groups aim to counter the effects of period poverty in Africa for women and girls.

Period Poverty in Ghana

In Ghana, data collected in 2016 showed that 95% of girls sometimes miss school due to period poverty. Within Ghana, factors that contribute to this include the taboo surrounding menstruation – with some local beliefs that menstruating women are unclean. There is also a lack of facilities within schools.

However, progress is occurring within Ghana through charities such as Dressability and Action Through Enterprise, which worked to give girls hygienic, reusable pads in a small rural area in upper west Ghana in 2021. This was due to its belief that sanitary pads are a luxury item in a post-pandemic era, and many families they have worked with struggled to send their girls to school due to not being able to afford them.

Period Poverty in Uganda

When girls in Uganda are on their period, absence from school is around 28% – a sharp increase from 7% on non-period days. Nearly a quarter of girls in the country between the ages of 12 and 18 drop out of school when menstruation commences meaning period poverty is rife within the country. Both statistics are according to data collected in 2019.

However, the government is making moves to try and tackle the issue by partnering with the Ugandan Red Cross for their ‘Keep a Girl in School Initiative,’ which gave out sanitary pads in schools there alongside partnering with reusable pad manufacturer ‘AFRIpads’ in 2019.

Period Poverty in South Africa

Around 7 million South African girls in 2022 still struggle to access sanitary products, according to the South African Minister for Women. When a Menstrual Health Management Symposium in Johannesburg occurred, reports stated that period poverty is a human rights issue that people must strive to resolve.

The Cora Project aims to support those who menstruate in South Africa by equipping them with sound knowledge regarding periods and period poverty and providing them with practical resources to combat it. In December 2020, the Cora Project gifted 100 women in various shelters across Cape Town Christmas gift boxes containing menstrual products and other goodies. Additionally, other projects occurred throughout 2020, such as the distribution of 12,000 products to in-need menstruators in Hout Bay and giving out more than 400 products on Mandela Day.

In conclusion, one can say that despite currently alarming statistics regarding period poverty in Africa, several organizations are striving to combat this to the greatest extent they can. The work that the organizations mentioned above have undertaken is evidence of a growing movement to combat period poverty in Africa for menstruators in education and broader life. By providing workshops and inclusion for men and boys to reduce period stigma and practical resources to ensure no one ends up without access to products, these groups are creating a better future for the next generation of menstruators.

– Claire Dickson
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Period Poverty in Jamaica
The feminine hygiene product brand, Always, is addressing period poverty in Jamaica for the fourth year in a row. By providing thousands of girls with sanitary pads, Always works to end period poverty in Jamaica.

About Period Poverty

Period poverty, or the lack of access to menstrual products and hygiene facilities, is a public health crisis that is currently affecting about 500 million women worldwide as of 2021. As of 2017, according to the World Bank, around 19.3% of people in Jamaica live below the poverty line. According to a study that Shelly-Ann Weeks conducted through the HerFlow Foundation, 44% of girls in Jamaica suffer from period poverty and have to go without sanitary supplies for months at a time.

Aside from the obvious implications, girls in Jamaica are ending up at a major disadvantage due to their lack of access to period products. Many girls facing period poverty miss as much as a week of school per month, causing their grades to drop and their self-esteem to dwindle. Girls facing period poverty suffer from the psychological impacts of feeling inferior and of lower status as a result of a basic biological process. This shame and guilt among teenagers can affect them well into womanhood. The inability to properly care for their bodies puts girls at risk for health issues that many in Jamaica cannot afford to treat, such as reproductive and urinary tract infections.

Period Poverty and COVID-19

Although period poverty is a historically taboo issue, the world has put the problem on the back burner during the past two years due to other issues deemed more urgent, stemming from COVID-19. The hotel and restaurant industries in Jamaica endured hard hits when tourism came to a halt in 2020 as the tourism sector laid off as many as 50,000 employees. In a country where many have lived in poverty since before the onset of the pandemic, this hit only worsened people’s living conditions and made basic products, such as feminine hygiene products, even less accessible.

How Always Works to End Period Poverty in Jamaica

Always acknowledges the timeliness of this campaign, as many families have lost their jobs and are struggling to put food on the table, never mind purchasing sanitary pads. As Always continues to work to end period poverty in Jamaica, it set a goal for 2022 to donate more than 200,000 sanitary pads to 14 schools in 14 different parishes throughout Jamaica. From the beginning of March 2022 to June 2022, Always ran a period poverty campaign where, for every Always product purchase by a consumer, the company will make a direct donation to a female in need.

Always is working in conjunction with the HerFlow Foundation, the country’s leading enterprise in addressing the stigma around menstruation and ending period poverty. Volunteers at the HerFlow Foundation will ensure that the Always product donations make their way to the designated schools. Various social media influencers from Jamaica have agreed to help expand the campaign and educate people about the issue and how they can help make a difference.

Looking Ahead

While Always is working to end period poverty in Jamaica, the fight will not end with just one effort. Girls will continue to turn to harmful alternatives for feminine hygiene products and will remain unable to learn and socialize as a result of period poverty. Amid its recovery from the impacts of COVID-19, Jamaica is still not equipped to provide access to sanitary products to every girl in need. In order to preserve girls’ confidence and health in the most basic of ways, it is vital that companies and organizations continue prioritizing access to menstrual products for young girls in Jamaica.

– Ava Lombardi
Photo: Unsplash

Period Poverty in Switzerland
Women have been getting their periods from the beginning of time. The first mass-produced commercial menstrual products emerged in 1897. On average, people with access to these menstrual products use
17,000 tampons in their life. Now, there are a plethora of menstrual products to choose from. Unfortunately, even with the availability of these products, there is immense period poverty, which refers to the inability of a menstruating person to access or afford products for their cycle. In Switzerland, 8.5% of the population faces income poverty which likely has an impact on women’s ability to menstruate hygienically. Switzerland has made considerable strides in an attempt to nullify the discrepancies between genders. However, this has not been entirely successful. Here is some information about period poverty in Switzerland and what measures are in place to eliminate it.

The Reason for the Problem

Period poverty in Switzerland is a problem that some parts of the country have attempted to address. However, it has become increasingly difficult for the youths to access these products due to inflation and taxes. With 50.4% of the population of Switzerland being female, they are part of the more than 500 million women worldwide who are deprived of menstrual products. The average woman bleeds for a total of 3,500 days or 10 years of her life. When living below the poverty line, it is often difficult to obtain menstrual products. About 10% of Switzerland’s youth fall below the poverty line as of 2019. However, specific statistics are not available regarding the number of people that period poverty affects in Switzerland.

All over, this deprivation curbs these people’s potential as they cannot step out of their house to work or study for fear of random pain in different parts of their body along, fear of staining their clothes or even just keeping their hygiene. This has a significant impact on the productivity of these women and their contribution to the world economy and each individual’s life. Lack of hygiene and loss of blood and tissues make a woman prone to multiple bacterial issues. The disparity between the two groups is unnecessary and dispels the disadvantaged group of a fundamental human right.

The Reason for the Prevalence of Period Poverty in Switzerland

The Swiss government started a campaign in 2021 to try and solve the problem of period poverty by making pads and tampons available for free in public schools and colleges. However, this did not work very well as, despite the free products, they were not in stock and available at all times within the schools and colleges. Often, the schools and colleges did not advertise their availability, and the school’s menstruating counterparts did not know they had a right to access these products. The lack of appropriate advertisement for the campaign failed to raise awareness about the unsaid taboo still prevalent in this small European country.

One might think that period products should not be so expensive since they are necessary for the normal bodily function of menstruation. However, it is more expensive to menstruate than it is to take a performance-enhancing tablet like Viagra since the Swiss Government imposed a value-added tax (VAT) rate of 7.7% on feminine hygiene products.

Poverty is an issue in nearly one in five Swiss households and about 10% of the youth below the age of 20 fall under the poverty line. On any given day, 300 million women and girls worldwide will be menstruating, indicating that period poverty is likely a challenge that requires resolution not only in Switzerland but also globally.

Solutions

Apart from the Swiss Government’s individualistic contribution to eradicating the problem in the country, the World Bank has made an effort to collectively end the stigmatization of menstruation worldwide by introducing the annual Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28. The end of stigmatization means that soon people will be able to talk about periods and issues like period poverty without experiencing shame.

Additionally, the City of Geneva introduced a pilot project wherein the municipality of the city has put up vending machines in economically challenged suburbs where youth are most likely to congregate. These machines contain sanitary and period-related products with organic cotton sanitary towels. Geneva has installed more than 53 machines as of September 2021. The aim was to break the taboo surrounding periods and make periods open to conversation. The products available within the machines are at subsidized prices, making them more affordable.

Another contributor to this is entrepreneurs Alexandra Wheeler and Eléonore Arnaud, who opened a boutique in Toulouse, Switzerland, called Rañute, which is all about destigmatizing periods. Wheeler and Arnaud open up conversations and stock products ranging from herbal teas to help with period pain as well as reusable panties and cups. It is not just a safe space for women but also young girls. It also provides a space for fathers and those in transition phases, such as menopause, who are eager to learn. Recently, the boutique has expanded to have online stores for its products to make them more readily available throughout France and Switzerland.

While more work is essential in terms of raising awareness, removing the stigma around menstruation and period poverty and making sanitary products freely available, Switzerland is on a solid path to do so. Hopefully, with continued work, period poverty in Switzerland will disappear entirely.

– Zyra Irani
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Education to Alleviate Period Poverty
During times of violence, those in need often receive aid, but period health often is a neglected aspect of assistance. Places with ongoing ethnic violence, war and displaced people need solutions for their women and girls to stay protected from infections and infertility issues. Hygiene is important and solutions are more sustainable when operating on the ground and pinpointing specific causes for specific issues. Kashmir, Palestine and Ukraine highlight the power of education to alleviate period poverty during conflict.

Kashmir

In Kashmir, many women cannot afford pads. Due to oppressive government officials and hateful bias in the region, many have lower access to health care and are constantly on the move. This cycle causes period poverty and cultural taboos continue to worsen the issue. Local doctors who treat tribal women see fever, vomiting, infection and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) as a result of the women not properly using reusable period cloths.

Tribal women in Jammu and Kashmir doctors are telling women that “Severe infection can lead to adhesions [scar tissue] in the uterus, which can block the fallopian tubes and, in certain cases, lead to infertility,” Open Democracy reported. It is unusual for girls to learn how to manage their period or how to adapt to hygienic practices with limited resources.

Shazia Chaudhary is a Gujjar activist who holds counseling sessions on menstruation to educate nomadic girls about sanitary pads and proper washing for reusable rags. According to Open Democracy, less than 10% of tribal women in Jammu and Kashmir have accurate knowledge about periods or receive period education. The process of providing education to alleviate period poverty can eliminate serious health concerns.

One man in Kashmir is spreading awareness and engineering cheaper sanitary products for those in extreme poverty in Kashmir. Aaqib Peerzada makes cheap and eco-friendly pads. Alongside, Dr. Auqfeen Nisar is working to educate girls on the safety of these products and register girls for pads at subsidized rates. Health concerns decrease by creating awareness and providing solutions.

Palestine

UNICEF is creating programs in Palestine to provide education to alleviate period poverty and to help those in extreme poverty learn about personal hygiene and have access to clean water and facilities. Not all women and girls have access to sanitary products, especially in times of uncertainty. As a result of historical forced movement, conflict in 2014 and destruction of infrastructure, many restrooms are not sanitary and lack privacy.

The combination of sanitation concerns and the overall taboo of periods at a young age leads to many young school girls with poor period hygiene. This can cause infection and possible reproductive issues. After success in 2012 and 2016, programs are expanding. “As part of its new country programme action plan in Palestine over 2018-2022, UNICEF is planning to continue with the WASH in schools programmes to address unmet needs identified in vulnerable communities,” said UNICEF in its report.

By creating better facilities and period knowledge, in schools, young women can have a private area to clean reusable products or dispose of reusable products, without feeling embarrassed.

Ukraine and Future Perspectives

Refugees all around the world face insecurity with sanitary products and it is Ukrainian refugees and citizens who now face this concern. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, more than 4 million refugees have fled the country. According to Global Citizen, many of the refugees are women “who could not bring enough supplies to manage their periods and do not have the means to buy them.” Existing programs like I Support The Girls (ISTG), which women created and run, are starting to help “on the ground” in nearby countries to expand their assistance.

Many organizations have received heightened interest in donors, following the invasion of Ukraine and hope that the interest in period poverty and education continues after the war for other women in need.

Refugees and war zones all around the world face similar period products and sanitary needs. The Global Citizen is able to give credit to charities that will continue to help Ukrainian women and other countries, for a long to come.

– Karen Krosky
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Iraq
The debris of war lies heavily in Iraq. The country’s constant conflicts with ISIS, which internal sectarian divides and Kurdish disputes exacerbated, have led to the focus shifting from other vital issues. Period poverty in Iraq —  the lack of access to menstrual hygiene products, water and sanitation facilities and proper knowledge about menstruation — stands as one of these issues.

Taboo About Periods

In most developed countries, talks about puberty and sexual development are normal. In deeply conservative countries like Iraq, however, society considers the topic of menstruation taboo. This leads to not only unpreparedness but also feelings of shame when adolescent girls first start menstruating. In an article that the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) published, Rusul, a young Iraqi woman, opened up about her experience with her first period. She mentioned that she felt confused and afraid, and “thought that she had done something wrong.”

The UNFPA established a Women Social Center in Rusul’s neighborhood a few years after her harrowing experience. The Center hosts educational sessions on issues affecting girls and women, such as menstruation, in order to raise awareness and educate girls on how periods affect them both mentally and physically. By dispelling myths and being open about biological facts, women in Iraq can feel comfortable about their body processes and confident enough to take the steps to maintain proper health and hygiene.

Feelings of fear and embarrassment in relation to periods are even more prevalent among lower-income individuals who have even less access to information and products like sanitary pads. UNICEF believes that by educating girls about menstrual cycles at an early age, the organization can help girls develop healthy menstrual practices. The organization has started work in the North African and Middle East regions to equip people of all genders with the necessary information about menstruation to help address misconceptions, prevent discrimination and reduce stigmas.

In Iraq specifically, one of UNICEF’s ongoing projects aims to develop and strengthen the knowledge of menstrual hygiene management among teachers. By conveying their menstrual knowledge to schoolgirls and normalizing periods, educators will “build confidence and encourage healthy habits” among menstruating girls.

Period Poverty During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated issues of period poverty in Iraq and throughout the world. The economic recession and supply chain crisis that followed have made menstrual supplies and hygiene products even less accessible, especially for those living in poverty. When girls and women cannot access menstrual products, they often resort to unsanitary methods, such as using dirty clothes or plastic bags to contain the bleeding. Consequently, these girls and women put themselves at risk of infections.

Moreover, during the pandemic, measures like lockdowns and the closing of social and medical centers block off access to menstrual education and free menstrual resources. The situation is worse for people in refugee camps, prisons and other institutions. A woman in Kirkuk, Iraq, told UNFPA that during the lockdown in 2020, being in a detention center made detainees feel forgotten “but [their] intimate needs matter.”

Solutions to Combat Period Poverty

In response to the problems posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, UNFPA has arranged to distribute dignity kits to families during the pandemic. During times of conflict with ISIS, specifically from 2014 to 2015, the UNFPA handed out about 95,000 such kits. The kit consists of “toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, sanitary pads and underclothes.” While distributing, UNFPA  staff can meet women to assess their needs and tell them about the psychological and reproductive services that the organization offers.

UNHCR collaborated with partners in 2020 and assisted 77,786 girls and women in Iraq by providing sanitary products to them.

UNICEF also helped in arranging clean water and sanitation supplies for women in care homes, correctional facilities and hospitals. Additionally, public video messages and announcements created by UNFPA helped teachers, parents and students gain awareness of menstrual health, even though schools had effectively shut down.

These steps to address period poverty in Iraq are bearing fruit. Data that UNICEF and WHO collected from refugee camps in Iraq in 2020 shows that almost 100% of women felt satisfied with the provision of “menstrual materials and facilities.” Moreover, according to survey data collected in Iraq between 2016 and 2020, 94% of women between the ages of 15-49 years had a private place to wash and change and 97% “had basic hand washing facilities.”

Though solutions are underway, only continued efforts and steadfast commitments to reducing period poverty in Iraq will ensure long-term change and lasting impacts.

– Anushka Raychaudhuri
Photo: Unsplash

Period Poverty in Europe
In 2020, several countries in Europe took a stand against period poverty that inspired current efforts in other European countries. The United Nations Population Fund defines period poverty as “the struggle many low-income women and girls face while trying to afford menstrual products.” The term also refers to the lack of access to water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH) facilities necessary to properly manage menstruation.

While some women have limited access to period products, others have none. According to the French organization Rules Elementary, an estimated 500 million women experience period poverty across the globe. The inability to manage menstruation through the necessary products pushes girls and women to miss school and work. In fact, around 100 million girls “miss up to one week of school a month” because they lack period products. In Europe, the average woman spends €27,000 on period products in a lifetime. According to European Waves, “the data [on period poverty in Europe] is fragmented, and in Europe as [a] whole, there are no official numbers on the issue.” However, “in individual countries, estimates all fluctuate around 10%, meaning [one] in 10 menstruators experience period poverty.”

Scotland and France’s Early Efforts

In November 2020, Scotland became the very first nation on the globe to provide free period products to all its residents. Women in need of period products can find them free in public places such as “community centers, pharmacies and youth clubs.”

The French Institute for Public Opinion has found that 1.7 million women experience period poverty in France. Furthermore, in a survey of 6,500 females in France, 13% stated that, at some point in their lifetimes, they had to choose between purchasing period products or purchasing an essential item, such as food. The government of France pledged €1 million to go directly to schools to provide free period products to students. France also announced plans for an initiative to begin in October 2020 “to set up free, organic hygiene product dispensers in 31 French high schools.”

Period Poverty in Belgium’s Prisons

In a November 2020 article, The Brussel Times reported on a survey by Caritas Vlaanderen, known for its humanitarian work in Flanders, Belgium. The survey found that, at times, 12% of females ages 12-25 did not have the financial means to purchase period products. Looking at period poverty figures among girls who live in poverty in Belgium, the numbers rise to 45%.

As part of Belgium’s efforts to make period products available to all women, the nation announced on May 17, 2022, that period products would be free for its female prisoners. The 500 prisoners in Belgium will receive 300,000 tampons and pads for free. In the past, only prisoners without a source of income had access to menstrual products. Meanwhile, “Other detainees, who worked within prison or benefitted from allowances” could order menstrual products, but paid higher costs (compared to the industry standard) for these menstrual products due to the price of shipping. As of 2020, the Belgian government committed €200,000 to address period poverty in the nation.

Value-added Tax (VAT) in Europe

Although essential to women, many countries in Europe do not consider period products an essential item. Menstruators in some European countries pay a VAT of about 22% on menstrual products, which is equivalent to the VAT on “luxury items.” In comparison, vegetables and fruits, as essential items, typically have a VAT of 4%. In 2018, Belgium reduced its VAT on menstrual items from 21% to 5% to combat period poverty in Europe.

Before 2022, Spain deemed menstruation products luxury items taxable at a VAT rate of 10%. However, Spain considered viagra an essential, taxable at just 4%. This year, Spain dropped the tax for period products to the level of essential items.

The United Kingdom, which formally left the EU on January 31, 2020, was able to abolish its 5% “tampox tax” after the separation. The Treasury found that abolishing this tax saves the average woman £40 across a lifetime. This change opens the door for other countries to redefine period products as essential items and not luxuries.

Spain is looking to give women paid sick leave for extreme period pain, opening the path for other countries to follow suit.

Looking Forward

Providing free products to schools, communities and prisons is a step in the right direction to ending period poverty. Education plays an equally important role in reducing period poverty in Europe. Information on good practices and knowing how to ask for help are imperative for young girls’ health. As more girls attend school, education will pave the path to securing skilled employment opportunities and higher-paying jobs in the future. With access to products in adulthood, fewer women will miss work and pay due to their periods.

Period poverty impacts women in developed and developing nations, but governments are slowly paving a path around the world to end period poverty.

– Sara Sweitzer
Photo: Wikipedia Commons