Period Poverty Challenges Period poverty challenges women worldwide because many women cannot afford or do not have access to menstrual products. Whether in the United States, Ireland, Great Britain or South Africa, many women struggle with period poverty and need resources to properly manage their menstruation.

Period Poverty Challenges in Africa

According to ActionAid, one in 10 girls in Africa do not attend school because they lack access to menstrual products or private hygiene facilities at school. Moreover, 50% of schoolgirls in Kenya do not have access to menstrual products. In addition, community stigmas and taboos about menstruation lead to girls experiencing emotional and mental problems. Girls and women in these situations often feel the need to hide their periods because of the shame associated with menstruation. Understanding the anthropological impacts and possible solutions to period poverty reveals beneficial changes that could help women.

Anthropological Perspective

According to the anthropological perspective of menstruation, menstruation is the biological experience of young girls that notifies them of their body’s transition to womanhood. In a world with more than 300 million women menstruating per day, menstruation is still not openly discussed. In places where menstruation is considered taboo or dirty, women tend to have negative perceptions of themselves. This encourages secrecy and shame. Research suggests that menstruation as a topic of private discussion is universal. Women and girls are expected to deal with their menstruation in silence and invisibility.

Period Poverty Interventions

Sophia Bay, researcher of “Moving Toward a Holistic Menstrual Hygiene Management: An Anthropological Analysis of Menstruation and Practices in Western and Non-Western Societies,” proposes interventions that go beyond the issue of accessing menstrual products. Bay addresses the social stigma and shame as well. The first intervention recognizes the issue of access to menstrual products and the second addresses efforts to destigmatize the topic of menstruation.

When girls in lower-income areas have access to period products regularly, their risk of anxiety and fear is drastically reduced. Additionally, access to sanitation such as handwashing facilities and clean toilets is important to improve hygiene. Increasing privacy is also vital to sanitation as this will prevent young girls from improperly discarding used menstrual products. Lastly, puberty education needs to be prioritized. Many women do not know enough about menstruation. A lack of education about biological changes negatively impacts how girls see themselves and menstruation.

Qrate Workshops

Individuals and organizations are working to change the stigma surrounding periods and address period poverty challenges. Candice Chirwa, the founder of the organization Qrate, currently works with communities in parts of South Africa to educate people about menstruation. She is a passionate menstruation activist, speaker and scholar who uses artistic techniques to encourage conversation about periods and period poverty. Visual art, dancing and acting offer an opportunity for communities to discuss a usually challenging topic in a light-hearted way.

In an interview with The Borgen Project, Chirwa explains that the girls play games to become more confident in themselves during the workshops. For example, one of these games requires the girls to pretend to explain different menstrual products to an alien. This helps them learn more about the products and become more comfortable talking about menstruation. Chirwa explains that the game also lets her know whether the girls are gaining the menstrual knowledge they need.

Ending Period Poverty

Facilitating workshops for young girls in South Africa has shown promise. Furthermore, understanding period poverty from an anthropological perspective offers explanations for the negative cultural stigma around periods. Using the work of researchers, making period products accessible, ensuring menstrual education and taking action to combat the stigma work hand-in-hand to alleviate period poverty.

Nyelah Mitchell
Photo: Flickr

Menstrual Health in NamibiaOn March 17, 2021, Namibia made the decision to no longer tax menstrual products beginning in the 2022-23 financial year. Currently, these products are taxed 15%, which makes it difficult for many to afford these essential items. The removal of this tax is an important change wherever it takes place. It is especially significant in places like Namibia where 73% of households do not even have adequate handwashing facilities. The tax elimination will not fix all issues related to the inaccessibility of menstrual products, however, it is a major step toward improving menstrual health in Namibia.

The Cycle of Period Poverty

Menstrual health is vital to one’s overall health. Globally, one in five girls misses school due to limited access to menstrual products. This means girls are missing up to one week of school every month. Consequently, students may find it difficult to keep up with their classmates and succeed in school. As getting an education is one of the most effective ways for people to lift themselves out of poverty, this puts girls at an even greater disadvantage and maintains the cycle of poverty.

This phenomenon is commonly referred to as period poverty. Period poverty is an unfortunate reality in Namibia and across the world. The goal of eliminating tampon tax and increasing the availability of menstrual products is to ensure no one misses opportunities simply because they are menstruating. Moreover, no one deserves to have to choose between buying sanitary products or buying food. Furthermore, no one should have to miss work or school simply because they cannot afford menstrual products. Making these products more easily available will reduce poverty and improve menstrual health in Namibia and around the world.

Women resort to alternatives such as rags, paper towels or old pads when they do not have access to menstrual products. The use of these items puts girls at risk of infections. The inaccessibility of sanitary products has also been linked with poor mental health and overall distress. These effects are easily preventable when menstrual products become accessible.

Menstrual Stigma

Many people do not consider menstrual health when trying to improve overall health. In many parts of the world, menstruation is considered unclean and shameful. This prevents many women from participating in society while menstruating. Access to menstrual products, like any other products that improve sanitation and health, is a human right. Regulations removing menstrual tax make these products more affordable and accessible. The removal of tampon tax will not take away the stigma surrounding menstruation, however, it will help protect people from disease, improve mental health and ease the completion of daily tasks while menstruating.

Namibia’s deputy minister in the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, Emma Theofelus, states, “Period poverty is one of the undignifying processes women and young ladies have to experience. Your period is such a natural process and not something they can opt out of. There are not enough social and economic circumstances to create safety for young women.” Since menstruation is a natural experience for nearly half of the population, equitable access to sanitary products should not be negotiable.

Addressing Period Poverty Globally

Namibia is not the first country to eliminate tampon tax, countries such as Kenya, India, Australia and South Africa have also done so. Other countries, such as Germany, have decreased the amount of tax. However, in most of the world, including most U.S. states, these essential items are still taxed, which makes menstrual products unavailable to many. The state of menstrual health in Namibia is sure to improve now that tampon tax is done away with. The rest of the world should look to Namibia as an example and make similar changes. Every girl and woman deserves to menstruate with dignity and Namibia is one step closer to making this a reality.

Harriet Sinclair
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Zimbabwe
Poverty stretches beyond lack of food and water, as period poverty is one of the biggest challenges Zimbabwean women face. With more than 3 million girls in Zimbabwe menstruating, there is high demand for feminine products. Those most likely to experience period poverty in Zimbabwe are underprivileged girls whose parents or guardians cannot afford to buy tampons, pads or menstrual cups. A lack of access to feminine products results in the unhygienic use of rags and cow dung. This not only affects the girls’ health but also strips them of confidence and dignity.

Many girls in Zimbabwe are at risk of developing infections and suffering the embarrassment of leakages and discomfort. Sanitary products are overpriced, so families have to choose between purchasing feminine products or buying food, with most settling on the latter. As a result, period poverty in Zimbabwe has risen to unimaginable heights and incited the government and many nonprofit organizations to work tirelessly to mitigate this problem.

7 Facts About Period Poverty in Zimbabwe

  1. Clean period underwear for girls and women in Zimbabwe is in high demand. Many homeless and rural girls do not own a pair of underwear, and underwear is very expensive to buy. The price of underwear is very high, and many consider it a luxury to own a clean pair. Individual projects and nonprofit organizations, like Hope for a Child in Christ, try to meet some of these needs, but the demand remains high.
  2. Some girls and women experience menstrual cramps and also require pain relievers. However, many pharmacies sell their medication in foreign currency that is inaccessible to the majority of low-income families. Some girls resort to unhealthy solutions, such as sniffing glue, to intoxicate themselves and relieve the pain of period cramps. This causes many to end up addicted to these inhalants that result in long-term effects like nulling brain function and heart failure.
  3. Zimbabwe’s protracted economic crisis has severely damaged the country’s economic potential. Basic needs like food and water are scarce which significantly lowers the standard of living. Girls and women must eat healthily and wash, especially during their menstrual cycle. However, some have little to no access to clean water, most commonly in rural areas, so they risk getting yeast infections and other health issues.
  4. There is also a lack of female-friendly toilets. Privacy is an issue, with some toilet cubicles having no doors or sanitary bins, which results in the girls throwing their sanitary wear on the floor or flushing it down the toilet. This increases the risk of diseases developing in various communities and harms the environment. Local ministers have sought funding from the government and work with nonprofit organizations, like Dutch, to build more female-friendly public toilets at schools and shopping centers.
  5. A study by SNV Zimbabwe states that 72% of menstruating schoolgirls do not use sanitary pads because they cannot afford them. Sanitary wear production is low in Zimbabwe, so the women rely on the importation of the products. Many women activists have voiced their concerns in the hope to raise awareness and shift the government’s mind to provide young women and girls sanitary wear at a more affordable price or better yet, at no cost at all. In December 2018, the government removed the value-added tax, which lowered the price of sanitary wear.
  6. With period poverty comes a plethora of other problems, including period shaming and bullying. When young girls and women resort to the use of rags and other unsustainable solutions with little absorbency, leakages occur and stain the young girls’ clothing or school uniform. Girls are then embarrassed and fear being around certain family members and peers. This disadvantages their education and mental well-being. As a result, many talented young girls give up their dreams and settle for early child marriages.
  7. Education about menstrual hygiene and how to use different sanitary products is a requirement for girls. Volunteer teachers and nonprofit organizations, like Talia Women’s Network, make an effort to close the period poverty gap by providing workshops and demonstrations on how a girl should care for herself during her cycle.

A conducive environment is a requirement for young girls and women. An environment where period stigmatization is low to nonexistent gives girls a better chance to be confident and driven. Moving forward, it is essential that more organizations make reducing period poverty in Zimbabwe a priority.

Pamela Patsanza
Photo: Flickr

period poverty in new ZealandOn February 18, 2021, New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and associate education minister, Jan Tinetti, announced that all schools in New Zealand will offer free menstrual products starting in June 2021, expanding on a pilot program that started in 2020. This announcement aligns with the country’s Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy and is a major step toward eliminating the barriers created by period poverty in New Zealand.

Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy

The New Zealand government’s Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) launched the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy on August 29, 2019, with the vision of New Zealand becoming “the best place in the world for children and young people” to reach their full potential.

The six expected outcomes of this strategy are for children and young people to feel loved and safe, meet their material needs, be physically and mentally healthy, have access to education, receive acceptance for who they are and develop a sense of autonomy. These outcomes stem from the principle that children and young people are intrinsically valuable human beings with rights that must be respected. Furthermore, individuals and communities should act together as early as possible to promote the multifaceted well-being of children and young people.

Addressing Period Poverty in New Zealand

New Zealand’s free menstrual product program in schools aligns with the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy because period poverty is a significant barrier to a young person’s education. Prime Minister Ardern points to research showing that approximately one in 12 young people in New Zealand miss school because of being unable to manage their menstruation. Tinetti notes that many students who have their period while in school face embarrassment, stigma and discomfort and risk missing classes or not having the proper menstrual hygiene products.

Research from the New Zealand charity, KidsCan, found that up to 20,000 students at the primary, intermediate and secondary levels were at risk of period poverty. Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic highlights and exacerbates challenges associated with period poverty, including the lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure and inadequate access to menstrual education as well as disrupted access to menstrual products.

The government’s new program expands on a pilot program that started in 2020 in which the government provided free menstrual products to more than 3,000 students in 15 schools in the Waikato region, located in northern New Zealand. Government officials used the feedback from the successful pilot program to inform its approach, with Tinetti noting that students wanted more information about the different kinds of menstrual products and how to manage their periods.

Other Period Poverty Programs

Private sector initiatives are also responding to period poverty in New Zealand by providing free menstrual products. For example, The Warehouse, one of the largest retailers in New Zealand, partnered with The Period Place to set up menstrual product donation boxes in several of its locations and provide free menstrual products in its store restrooms.

The Period Place is a New Zealand-based advocacy group whose vision is for New Zealand to be the first country to achieve period equity by 2030 in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Positive Periods is a coalition of 25 period poverty advocacy groups in New Zealand that advocate for the provision of free menstrual products in schools. In 2019, it released a discussion paper highlighting period poverty in New Zealand and its effect on educational outcomes. It also circulated a petition calling for free menstrual products in schools, which received more than 3,000 signatures.

The Road Ahead

Period poverty in New Zealand is an issue that affects the health and well-being of thousands of girls and women. The government’s free menstrual product program in schools is an important step toward ensuring that all girls and women can pursue an education and manage their menstruation with dignity.

Sydney Thiroux
Photo: Flickr

Job Opportunities in the Poorest Nations
Creating job opportunities in the poorest nations of the world is key to development while also being a significant challenge for the world. With unemployment ranging as high as over 20% in some low-income and developing countries – particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, the region with the highest unemployment recorded – companies and businesses around the world have been striving to increase human capital through working locally and providing employment opportunities onsite. Here is a list of four businesses creating jobs in the world’s poorest nations.

Because International

With its commitment to using production as a means of breaking “the negative cycle of poverty by creating opportunity for real, measurable, long-term economic growth,” Because International’s business model centers around the idea of aiding entrepreneurs through production. Its main product, The Shoe That Grows, is a long-lasting, expandable shoe designed for children in low-income countries. The company hires in areas that need the product the most. Local production helps sustainability and other benefits, from reduced carbon footprint and lower shipping costs to job creation.

The company has thus far created jobs on two production sites. The Umoja Company site in Kenya works on The Shoe That Grows for local markets. The Anbessa Shoe Share company, in Ethiopia, supplies shoes for international brands such as J.Crew and D.S.W. Additionally, Because International runs the Pursuit Incubator, an online support program where entrepreneurs living in poverty can gain relevant training and coaching, as well as get funding and develop their network. The Incubator has so far helped several start-ups based in Africa. Among them are Reform Africa, which makes bags from recycled plastic, Our Roots Africa, which produces plant-based and biodegradable straws and SoaPen, which provides hand soap pens for kids in low-hygiene areas.

Wonderbag

A Wonderbag is a non-electric slow cooker that allows food to cook for up to 12 hours without any additional heating. The product preserves heat and aids the cooking process. It is an easy-to-use foam insulated bag that wraps around cooking pans. This way of slow-cooking minimizes health issues by obviating the use of wood, charcoal and fuels in cooking. This common way of cooking in low-income areas is a health risk. The product also saves 13,000 hours per year. Because of this, women have more time to develop other skills. This provides an opportunity for women and girls to increase their earning potential and autonomy. As Kirsten Fenton, Wonderbag’s representative, told The Borgen Project, “Communities and their people lie at the heart of Wonderbag’s purpose.”

The company works with partnering factories and sewing collectives to provide local women with paid employment opportunities. Through organized training, teaching and guidance, Wonderbag has created community employment in Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and soon Brazil. “These employment projects have been run with the support of co-operatives… [and] single mothers manufacturing Wonderbags from their home.”

MakaPads

MakaPads is an Uganda-based business producing naturally absorbent and biodegradable sanitary pads from local papyrus and paper waste. Its aim is to reduce period poverty and make sanitary products widely available for women and girls in developing countries. Its  motto is “Let’s ensure every girl has access to and can afford to buy sanitary pads.”

The company currently operates in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kenya, Uganda and Sierra Leone. The average income in these countries is less than $1.25/month, yet a packet of period pads costs twice that. This inequity pushes women to use riskier products such as cloth rags, waste paper or banana leaves.

MakaPads provides training to those who wish to produce the pads themselves. CEO Nnassuuna Mirembe told The Borgen Project, “MakaPads are a Menstrual Hygiene Management product that is proudly made by over 90% women using resources from within the communities.”

The company has so far taught and employed over 200 women and men. “Maka also means home, which means several girls and women can stay at home, take care of the house chores but also make portions of the sanitary pads which they sell to the company and are paid a unit rate for each product,” explained Mirembe. This is possible due to the use of materials grown locally. These materials are easily and widely available, allowing the trained manufacturers to work from their homes and not have to bear any additional income.

One Dollar Glasses

One Dollar Glasses is a pioneering organization that produces optical glasses for those in need. The glasses are a revolutionary design. A single steel wire is the only necessary material. Additionally, the manufacturing process does not require any electricity, involves only one bending machine and costs $1 per pair. Considering how easy and accessible the production process is, the organization has managed to create more than 200 jobs in eight operating countries – Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Malawi, Myanmar and Peru – through financing relevant training and providing bending machines to those seeking employment. One Dollar Glasses also organizes its Best Spherical Correction Training to help trainees learn how to conduct eye tests and adjust glasses on patients.

These four companies have found innovative ways to create job opportunities in the poorest nations. They use sustainable techniques and are contributing to ending global poverty. Providing job opportunities in the poorest nations uplifts the entirety of the global economy. To do so in a sustainable, futuristic way is truly an accomplishment for these brands.

– Natalia Barszcz
Photo: Flickr

Lolo Cynthia
Period poverty means a woman or girl is unable to afford period products. In the African continent, more than 800 million women and girls menstruate each day, but 500 million of those women do not have access to sanitary pads. As a result, in some places in the world, girls manage their periods with used rags, sand, tree bark and other unsanitary practices, leading to reproductive or urinary tract infections. This issue is prevalent in Nigeria as well, although public health specialist Lolo Cynthia is making a difference by providing health education to girls and helping them make their own cloth pads.

Period Poverty in Nigeria

Period poverty is a global issue that greatly impacts women in Nigeria, where women receive heavy taxes on menstrual products. A pack of sanitary pads costs $1.30. However, 44% of Nigerians live in extreme poverty and earn less than $1.90 per day. Inability to pay for sanitary pads places strain on finances and the physical and mental health of Nigerian women. This, in turn, leads to high anxiety and stress during menstruation.

Period Poverty in Nigerian Schools

According to the United Nations Children Fund, many schoolgirls in Nigeria view menstruation as a secretive and shameful experience. They associate it with experiencing anxiety, abdominal pain, cramps, nausea and vomiting, impacting their school work. One in 10 girls in Nigeria miss school due to their periods, and Nigeria’s conservative approach to menstruation discourages conversations about improving this issue.

Lolo Cynthia

A public health specialist named Lolo Cynthia, who taught 250 girls in southwest Nigeria how to make their own reusable menstrual pads from linens and cloth at a summer camp, is combatting the issue. Lolo Cynthia was born and raised in Lagos and later moved to South Africa to continue her studies. She earned degrees from Monash University at the age of 19 in public health and sciences and HIV/AIDS and health management. Lolo then worked at Nigeria’s Rave TV, where she discussed politics and lifestyles. Later, she worked on a documentary focusing on street children’s lives, drug abuse and other issues impacting women in Nigeria.

Lolo always had a passion for sexual health and social inequality, and she reveals these passions through her work on LoloTalks and MyBodyIsMine. Lolo’s efforts, which receive support from the first lady of Nigeria’s Ondo state Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu, allow her to work with LoloTalks to discuss menstruation and sexual health. While she was hosting her podcast and working on LoloTalks and education program, MyBodyIsMine, she also started the NoDayOff campaign. It distributed 1,000 pads to women and girls in Lagos. Through this campaign, she quickly realized the need for a more sustainable option for women to use during menstruation. Lolo’s eco-friendly pads create an opportunity for women to control their periods and sexual health sustainably.

Benefits of Cloth Pads

Nigerian girls learning the skills to make their own pads can benefit their sexual health. Moreover, it can help them prepare for menstruation every month. The benefits of pads are:

  1. They are Affordable: Using cloth pads is very beneficial, especially when fighting against period poverty. Cloth pads are more affordable and can last for up to five years or longer than other types of pads and menstrual products.
  2. Cloth Pads are Better for the Body: Most disposable pads comprise harmful chemicals. These chemicals can negatively impact the sensitive area of the body where women place them. Cloth pads involve safe material that is chemical-free.
  3. Cloth Pads Increase Preparation: Using cloth pads also guarantees that women are ready for their cycle. Additionally, it reduces the chances that women and girls will reuse pads and tampons, which can pose health risks.

Lolo Cynthia’s work has received global recognition and may have an impact on how Nigeria approaches women’s bodies and health. The fight to reduce period poverty in Nigeria is only beginning.

Nyelah Mitchell
Photo: Flickr

Taboo of Menstrual Hygiene
The American Medical Women’s Association defines period poverty as “the inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and education.” This includes limited accessibility to menstrual products like tampons, pads, washing stations and the ability to properly dispose of used products. The World Bank reports that “at least 500 million women and girls globally” lack the basic necessities for healthy menstrual management, making it difficult to combat the taboo of menstrual hygiene.

The inaccessibility of hygienic resources causes several problems for menstruating women and girls around the world. The U.N. states that in sub-Saharan Africa, 10% of school-aged girls will miss days for 20% of the school year due to menstruation. Their cycles, unfortunately, isolate them from their families and loved ones. These girls have to eat alone,  sleep outside and wear the same clothes daily. Society claims they are “unclean” because of their cycles. Studies in Kenya found that it is not uncommon for girls to trade sex to pay for period supplies. Period poverty is a widespread issue. Countries frequently do not address it because of stigmas surrounding menstruation.

Entrepreneurs in the Making

In 2016, South Australian high school students Eloise Hall and Isobel Marshall attended a leadership conference that would start them on a journey of empowering women all over the world. The two young women left the conference with the motivation to do something impactful.

Eloise and Isobel decided that creating a social enterprise would be the most impactful. This is a result of making menstrual hygiene their target objective. They catered to a market that spent $300 million on period supplies annually.

As Isobel and Eloise researched menstrual hygiene, “they were shocked to learn that 30% of girls in developing countries will drop out of school once they start having periods.” They also researched “that far too many reproductive complications stem from the lack of appropriate menstrual health care and education.” They felt a responsibility to contribute to reducing period poverty. Isobel and Eloise launched their company, Taboo, over the next few years with an immense amount of effort, fundraising, persistence and heart.

Team Taboo

Taboo makes organic cotton period products, pads and tampons. Taboo sells them online and in stores throughout Australia. The Taboo team consists only of volunteers. Taboo has a commitment to using ethically sourced materials in its products. It also donates 100% of its profits. The money goes straight to One Girl, a nonprofit organization that “…break[s] down the barriers that girls face in accessing an education. [They] do this by running girl-led programs in Sierra Leone and Uganda to drive positive change for girls and their communities.” One Girl teaches on menstrual hygiene, which is a frequent topic. Taboo also donates menstrual products, thus,  assisting the program with spreading awareness. One Girl distributes its products to its program members. It also combats the taboo of menstrual hygiene.

Eloise and Isobel sought to help their local community. In addition to their support of One Girl, they offer their consumers an option to subscribe to Taboo’s menstrual hygiene products on behalf of “disadvantaged” women in South Australia. They make a monthly trip to a women’s crisis center called Vinnie’s to hand deliver all donated supplies.

Taboo’s first products released in 2019. This company has made a huge impact in this short time. This contributes to Australia’s desire to combat the taboo of menstrual hygiene. In January 2021, co-founder Isobel Marshall became the recipient of the Young Australian of the Year award. The Taboo team is hopeful this recognition will spread awareness of the period poverty crisis.

Rachel Proctor
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in the U.K.
Period poverty in the U.K. affects millions and the pandemic has exacerbated it. In 2017, research studies discovered that one in 10 girls in Britain could not afford period products. It also revealed that one in seven struggles to afford period products. Periods embarrass almost 50% of girls in the U.K. between the ages of 14 and 21. Meanwhile, one in seven have revealed that they do not know what happens when they have their period. Additionally, only one in five girls feels comfortable talking about their periods. In response to this, the nonprofit organization Bloody Good Period provides support for asylum seekers and refugees in the U.K.

What is Period Poverty?

Period poverty is a lack of access to period products and information on period products and menstruation. According to the charity Freedom4Girls, this issue affects more than 300 million around the world.

How Does Period Poverty Impact Asylum Seekers and Refugees?

Women who seek asylum in the U.K. receive 37.75 pounds ($52.90) a week to live on. This amount of money is not enough for women to live on or pay for monthly period products. Failed asylum seekers who cannot receive asylum support must rely on charities for their basic needs.

According to the Women for Refugee Women brief, 75% of the 78 women interviewed struggled to access period pads and tampons. These women had to overuse period products, improvise period wear or beg for money to pay for products. It is common for asylum-seeking women to have to choose to live without food or other basic needs to pay for period products. Period poverty makes it even more difficult for asylum-seekers to rebuild their lives.

What is Bloody Good Period?

Gabby Edlin started Bloody Good Period after helping refugee families at a London drop-in center. After learning that period products were not regularly passed out, Edlin questioned the logic. She started the organization with a simple Facebook message.

The organization takes a head-on approach to the issue, encouraging a simplistic approach that consults women on their period wants and needs. Bloody Good Period also works to start a conversation on periods to create a space where women do not feel ashamed of their period while reducing misinformation and increasing awareness. The organization is also partnering with The Body Shop, which funds education workshops on periods and menopause for refugees and asylum seekers.

Bloody Good Period’s Methods

Bloody Good Period’s partnership with The Body Shop has resulted in the donation of 10,000 packs to local charities and organizations for the homeless, women refugees, asylum seekers and refugees in the past year. The two organizations have been vital during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2021, Bloody Good Period has provided supplies to food banks, created community support groups and granted support to people facing domestic violence. It has also worked to aid asylum seekers, refugees and homeless shelters. The charity provided 53,000 products since the pandemic and 700 packs of menstrual products in March and April 2020. While Bloody Good Period has supplied a high number of products, the demand has been even higher during the pandemic.

Bloody Good Period’s work is necessary to fight period poverty in the U.K. Continuous support is always necessary, especially during the pandemic, because “periods don’t stop in a pandemic,” said Bloody Good Period’s founder Gabby Edlin.

– Nyelah Mitchell
Photo: Unsplash

Period Poverty in BrazilPeriod poverty is defined as a lack of access to menstrual hygiene resources and education. This includes access to sanitary products, washing facilities and waste management services. Financial barriers exacerbate period poverty in Brazil. Menstrual products in Brazil are taxed because they are not categorized as essential. In fact, in São Paulo, taxes form 34% of the price of menstrual products. Individuals and organizations are dedicating efforts to addressing period poverty globally.

Period Poverty in Brazil

In Brazil, not only is access to period products an issue but females also have no or limited access to hygiene facilities. Roughly 39% of schools lack handwashing facilities. This inadequacy directly impacts girls’ school attendance because, during menstruation, girls need a bathroom facility to change their tampons or pads and wash their hands. Outside of school, roughly five million Brazilians live in places that do not have adequate bathroom facilities.

Menstrual Stigma

There are about 5,000 known euphemisms for the words “menstruation” or “period.” This simple fact illustrates the shame associated with menstruation. Cultural taboos, discrimination, lack of education and period poverty perpetuate menstrual stigma. The consequences are that girls miss school while menstruating due to stigmas and taboos as well as a lack of access to menstrual hygiene products. Missing school means falling behind on education and increases the likelihood of girls dropping out of school altogether. Without education, girls are at higher risk of child marriage, early pregnancy and violence. Lack of education continues the cycle of poverty, limiting the futures of girls. This clearly illustrates how period poverty affects overall poverty.

Helena Branco

Ordinary young Brazilians are taking action to address period poverty in Brazil. Helena Branco is an 18-year-old Brazilian inspiring change and finding solutions to period poverty. After learning that the Brazilian government did not view period products as an essential resource, she took action. Branco and her teammates are part of Girl Up, a global movement for gender equality created by the United Nations Foundation.

After extensive research, the team’s first step was to focus efforts on supplying menstrual products to people suffering from the financial impact of COVID-19. The team developed the campaign #AbsorventeUrgente (#UrgentPads) to encourage local communities to donate menstrual products to organizations supporting vulnerable people during COVID-19. A total of 16 girl-led gender equality clubs from seven different Brazilian states took part in this effort. Through the campaign, the team successfully distributed more than 60,000 period products, raised $3,200 and directly impacted more than 3,000 people.

Eliminating Global Period Poverty

Branco and her team are bringing attention to the issue of period poverty in Brazil, highlighting barriers such as menstrual product taxes that discriminate against women. It is vital to address issues of period poverty in order to eliminate stigma and normalize the idea of menstruation in all nations. Efforts to address period poverty are essentially efforts to address global poverty overall.

Rachel Wolf
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Iran
Menstruation is a normal, healthy part of life. However, for women and girls worldwide, having a period can be a barrier to attaining true gender equality. Period poverty in Iran is the result of many factors including misconception, lack of training and education, stigma and traditional, conservative religious beliefs. With “millions of women and girls [continuing] to be denied their rights to water, sanitation, hygiene, health, education, dignity and gender equity,” some are directing attention and resources to the menstrual equality movement.

Misconception and Restriction

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, taboos, misconceptions and social and cultural restrictions shadow menstruation for many women. A study among school girls in West Iran found that “41.2% of girls understood that menstruation is a normal physiological process in women,” leaving the majority of pubescent girls in this study to form inaccurate perceptions about this normal bodily function. In a similar study, 48% of Iranian girls stated they believed that menstruation was a disease. The feelings of confusion, panic and fear that accompany such beliefs can inhibit girls from experiencing true dignity and comfort in their bodies.

Cultural, religious and traditional beliefs have a significant impact on norms and attitudes. Islamic rules dictate various prohibitions for menstruating women. During menstruation, women cannot bathe, pray, enter a mosque, fast during Ramadan, touch the Quran or have sexual intercourse. Certainly, the level of restriction varies amongst communities and families, however, much of these restrictions predominate.

A study that occurred in secondary schools in the city of Tabriz, the most populous city in northwestern Iran, indicated that the majority of female students were able to access menstrual hygiene products. Specifically, out of the 1,000 students included in the study, two-thirds reported a favorable economic status and 95.6% reported using disposable pads during menstruation. Though these rates are encouraging, Iran’s poverty rates remain very high. After the last census in 2016, an Iranian economist estimated that 30 million Iranians were living in relative poverty and 12 million in absolute poverty. High poverty rates correlate to less access to water, sanitation and hygiene resources, including menstrual pads.

The Impact of Education

While organizations and governments can best tackle the complex issue of combating period poverty in Iran through collaboration across disciplines of education, urban planning, water and sanitation, a study out of Iran University of Medical Sciences and Health Services states that “health education is among the fundamental and successful approaches to health promotion.” It is promising, then, that in early 2019, a group of officials from the Iranian Ministry of Science and Health as well as the Vice President for the Women’s and Family Affairs, collaborated to create a document aimed at promoting sexual health awareness and education. The document provides guidance to empower teachers and parents, implement education packages and establish policies and interventions to promote indirect sexual education through media. This document is the first of its kind and marks a critical undertaking of improving adolescents’ sexual health education in Iran.

Training and education have a considerable influence and can help mitigate period poverty in Iran. One study found that the use of sanitary pads, as well as bathing and washing after urination or defecation during menstruation, were practices significantly elevated in groups of young girls that received training. The stakes of proper training are beyond fostering hygienic practices; education has a direct impact on health outcomes. Young girls who are first learning about menses are a particularly vulnerable group. Lacking information about menstruation can lead to anxiety and lowered self-esteem but also reproductive tract infections and pelvic inflammatory diseases. The International Journal of Pediatrics found that “young girls with better knowledge and practice toward menstrual hygiene are less vulnerable to adverse health outcomes.”

The Importance of Mothers

Iran can best take on the task of providing reproductive education to its youth by utilizing a critically helpful source: mothers. Countless studies state that the most efficient, culturally and religiously sensitive strategy to convey information to girls about menstruation involves families, mothers in particular.

A study by the International Journal of Preventive Medicine compared different training sources for adolescents’ menstrual health education. Its findings indicate that partnering parents and school trainers as equal stakeholders “leads to more successful results in health implementation.” Another study based out of Iran suggests that education to mothers could be even more effective than directly training adolescent girls themselves. With 61% of Iranian girls reporting that their mothers are the best source of information about menstrual hygiene, it is critical that mothers receive sufficient education so they can share accurate information with their daughters. It is urgent, ethical and resourceful to prioritize education and training for menstrual health management.

Organizations Addressing Women’s Health

While there are over 2,700 NGOs working in Iran on women and family affairs, including Relief International and Center for Human Rights in Iran, the work of Imam Ali’s Popular Student Relief Society, IAPSRS, has been substantial in the area of reducing period poverty in Iran. This prominent group includes 12,000 volunteer university students and graduates. It aims to promote social and economic justice by supporting marginalized children and women in the most problematic, marginalized neighborhoods in Iran. The organization has provided workshops about personal hygiene, birth control, maturity and sexually transmitted disease prevention, as well as deployed volunteer gynecologists for biannual disease screenings.

The work of this group is currently in jeopardy, however. In early March 2021, a court verdict dissolved the NGO, stating that it “deviated from [its] original mission and insulted religious beliefs.” The Human Rights Watch has already called on the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to reverse this action and reinstate the organization.

The Period Equity Movement

The last decade has illuminated the need for a growing focus and global movement on menstrual health management. Significant developments have occurred to address the barriers facing girls and women all over the world, but the need for major overhauls in programming and policy agenda persists.

– Brittany Granquist
Photo: Flickr