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

Victoria Heaney and Free Period Scotland MovementPeriod poverty is when women and girls do not have access to safe and clean period products and/or do not have the tools to manage their periods confidently. One of the many countries that face this issue is Scotland. Victoria Heaney created the Free Period Scotland movement to address period poverty in Scotland.

What Started Free Period Scotland?

The Free Period Scotland movement was created with the purpose to make period poverty a regularly discussed topic by Scotland’s government and continue menstruation conversations across the nation. In addition to placing pressure on Scotland’s officials, the research allowed women to admit the harsh reality of period poverty openly. The survey played a role in Scotland becoming a leader worldwide for period poverty protection. Scotland now provides free period products to all women.

Heaney’s interest came from the fact that this form of research is not common in Scotland. At the beginning of the study, she discussed on the podcast “The Snash with Jenny Cook” that she heard stories where women were using old socks as pads due to not being able to afford period products. When Heaney began researching the issue, no research was available on period poverty in Scotland.

Discovering a lack of research on period poverty was surprising because half of the world’s population menstruates. Heaney’s passion for this project led her to teach herself how to do a survey. Her survey focused on the quantity and quality of the experiences.

The Outcome

The Women for Independence committee conducted the research, which was led by Heaney. More than 1,000 women participated in the research survey. The quantitative findings revealed that nearly one in five participants claimed to go without period products because they could not afford them. The research also showed that one in 10 women had to choose between food and period products. In addition, 22% of participants said they were not able to change their period products regularly.

Not only did the survey produce shocking statistics, but it also offered a clearer picture of period poverty in Scotland. Heaney wished to use the research to better examine the stigma that surrounds menstruation for women of all ages. The study revealed that women over the age of 55 reported experiences that were alarmingly similar to teenagers. Free Period Scotland plays a significant role in the Scottish government’s legislative efforts and its bill granting free period products.

Looking Ahead

One of the many ways to help reduce period poverty is raising awareness of the issue, whether through research or social media campaigns. The more discussion about the negative stigmas surrounding menstruation, the more support will be gained in fighting against this global injustice. Victoria Heaney and the Free Period Scotland Movement have made tremendous leaps for women facing period poverty in Scotland. With support from advocacy groups, NGOs and the government, Scotland is taking one step closer to ending period poverty.

– Nyelah Mitchell
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in South Korea
Many have avoided the subject of menstruation in the public spaces of South Korea, as it often receives the label of being a private experience for women. The expectation of South Korean women is that they separate their private life from their public image. As such, the government has immensely ignored period poverty in South Korea.

Brief History

The lack of discussion surrounding menstruation has been consistent since the 1980s. Alongside this issue, patriarchal dominance and gender inequality are similarly longstanding. The harsh stigmas that others have placed upon menstruation accompany inequalities concerning wages, proper mannerisms, pregnancy and family roles.

Many women’s unions pushed for menstrual leave at work as a necessity directly correlated to their health and reproductive care. In 2001, South Korea authorized unpaid menstrual leave; however, women did not exercise the policy. Meanwhile, the refrain from utilizing the law strengthened due to the 2003 law alteration. Women could only receive menstrual leave upon employee’s request, which contributed to workplace discrimination and organizational discouragement.

Others Impacted

In addition to these conditions in organizational settings, period poverty in South Korea was prevalent among lower-class families. In 2016, “insole girls” began to circulate in the media. It referred to girls who could not afford period products using insoles of sneakers instead of pads. This was a direct result of Yuhan-Kimberly, the leading brand of period products. The company raised the prices of its pads by 20%, despite period products being at their highest point in the region.

The exposure of “insole girls” began to stimulate discussion of period poverty in South Korea. The overwhelming response was anger. Period products costed half a living wage at the time, and many representatives began to advocate for period products to receive treatment as a public good. Charities and nonprofit organizations began to plan the distribution of free period products, such as pads, underwear and cosmetics for girls.

Yuhan-Kimberly released a public statement explaining its pledge to donate 1.5 million pads and develop cheaper options for several demographics. With new talk of affordable period products, the conversation began to shift toward menstrual cups and reusable pads, which the South Korean government combatted.

The Current Fight

Despite the tensions of gender disparities and menstruation, the South Korean government began to relax restrictions and pass new policies regarding menstruation. In 2017, the government began to allow the sale of menstrual cups, despite its previous prohibition. In 2018, the South Korean metropolitan government announced the provision of free menstrual products in 10 public venues, such as the Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul History Museum and Seoul Metropolitan Library. The public has also stood up to fight period poverty.

Nonprofit organizations, such as the Korean Women’s Environmental Network (KWEN), fight for menstrual safety and period poverty. As an eco-friendly feminist advocacy group, KWEN has protested against unsafe sanitary pads and toxin-filled menstrual products. KWEN continues to encourage taboo discussions of women’s bodies, educating its audience on topics ranging from women’s hygiene to products that are safe and environmentally friendly.

As part of the ongoing discussion on period poverty in South Korea, many women spoke out on how people should consider period products a public necessity. They fought against the censorship of “saengri,” a common informal term for a period. They also began discussions of gender disparities in the workplace, family life and society.

Cho Nam Joo’s book “Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 A Novel” sheds light on the different obstacles and pressures of being a woman in Korea. Considering its debut in 2016 — the crux of censored women experiences, Cho was challenging the stigmas to menstruation and the female experience. Cho is part of the feminist movement that stirs in the South Korean community.

A New Direction

Public discussion, nonprofits and the government have ushered in promising change regarding period poverty in South Korea. With continued support, women can challenge the stigmas regarding menstruation and dwindle the numbers of impoverished communities that period poverty in South Korea affects. The idea of a foreseeable end to gender discrimination and menstrual taboo has surfaced and resounds strongly throughout the country.

Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Celebrity Solutions to Period PovertyCombinations of cultural stigmas and taboos, lack of access to menstrual products and inadequate sanitation facilities all contribute to period poverty. UNICEF highlights that 2.3 billion people across the world still do not have access to basic sanitation services. Each day, 800 million women and girls menstruate yet these barriers hinder them from properly managing their menstruation. Celebrity solutions to period poverty hope to address this global issue.

Period Poverty

The umbrella term of period poverty is used to describe “the inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and educations, including but not limited to sanitary products, washing facilities and waste management.” Oftentimes, women and young girls in countries that prominently experience this form of poverty are ostracized from activities such as socializing or eating particular foods. Furthermore, the cultural shame that menstruators carry with them hinders them from going to school and work. Generally, this results in girls being uneducated, further exacerbating the cycle of poverty. As the issue of period poverty increases, celebrity solutions to period poverty help raise awareness and look toward ways to reduce period poverty.

Celebrities Fighting Period Poverty

  1. Hilary Duff. In 2019, actress Hilary Duff partnered with Naturalena Brands and launched Veeda, a 100% natural period product line. Duff made it her mission to provide affordable and quality menstrual products for women and girls around the world. She spoke about period poverty in an interview with the Morning Show, “It is horrifying that something like your period is holding girls back from being able to go to school for a week every single month because they don’t have access to proper supplies.” Veeda works closely with the Naturalena Foundation which had donated more than three million feminine hygiene products to more than 10 countries.
  2. Gina Rodriguez. Actress Gina Rodriguez wrote an article for Teen Vogue in August 2018 in which she reflected on how different her life would have been if she had personally been impacted by period poverty. After learning about how many girls could not go to school because of their menstrual cycles, Rodriguez partnered with Always for the #EndPeriodPoverty campaign. The campaign aims to ensure that women and girls always feel supported so that their periods do not hold them back from living up to their fullest potential. Though the campaign addresses period poverty in the United States, it serves to raise awareness about the global issue of period poverty so that more people can become involved to take action globally.
  3. Amika George. In 2018, British activist Amika George was nominated for Teen Vogue’s “21 under 21” list by actor Emma Watson for her work toward achieving menstrual equality and ending period poverty. At the age of 17, after realizing that girls in the U.K. were not attending school because they were unable to afford period products to manage their menstruation, George started the campaign Free Periods to end period poverty. She also started a petition that received more than 200,000 signatures. This created awareness of the issue and resulted in a period poverty protest of 2,000 people outside the residence of U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May.

These celebrity solutions to period poverty help create awareness and address a global issue that prevents girls and women around the world from reaching their full potential.

Meghana Nagendra
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in the Philippines
The Philippines, located in Southeast Asia, is an archipelagic state that holds the third-largest Catholic population in the world. General statistics on period poverty in the Philippines are limited, but the religious influence has been blocking a broader question of whether the country should implement sex education or not. Reproductive health legislation poses a risk to bilateral relations between the government and Church, holding lawmakers at an impasse.

The Situation

In the Philippines, many young women endure menstruation as a major economic and social determinant of success. Students, in particular, are ill-equipped to navigate their menarches, and the period stigma impacts the quality of their education and future. Policies to address this issue have been mostly ungenerous, with some advancements happening under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. During the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations have been advocating to push period awareness campaigns to the forefront of the public health agenda.

According to a survey that G.M.A. News conducted, most voters support the idea of government-regulated sex education efforts. However, political progress has been slow at best; the Church holds enough public sway to delay any legislative initiatives. The Philippines did not enforce the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Act of 2012 until 2019, when Duterte signed an executive order to mandate free reproductive health services, albeit against the will of the Church.

Sex Education in the Philippines

Though the 2012 law includes mandating sex education in school curricula, people have mostly overlooked its application. Determining lessons on periods falls to the jurisdiction of the teachers, most of whom are male, and it is in this setting where many girls start to fall behind because of their menstrual cycles. Currently, the way most young people learn about menstruation is from their mothers who tell the girls to sit on a coconut shell to alleviate their cramps. They receive little help from their teachers and face standard forms of subtle embarrassment common to girls who get their menses for the first time.

The school setting also represents the larger-scale issues for people who menstruate in the Philippines. Toilets are limited in number and privacy, and windows are in poor positions allowing boys to peep at girls who are doing their business. Likewise, 14% of workplaces have inadequate toilets for women, and women must habitually carry their own toilet paper because restrooms have limited water for flushing and hand-washing.

Improving sex education could be a largely successful target to combatting period poverty in the Philippines. A U.N. WASH study identified four key recommendations to improving girls’ menstrual health in the Philippines including better education, improved facilities and greater access to menstrual products and support systems for girls who take an absence. Though period poverty remains largely unchecked, further observation would promote the general betterment necessary to combat women’s health inequities.

Initiatives to Help Fight the Period Stigma

At the social level, humanitarian organizations use community initiatives to provide support for people who menstruate. Save the Children Philippines assigns resident volunteers and teen advocates to dismantle menstrual health stigmas by reaching out to their peers with advice, support and educational tools. However, COVID-19 has intensified the crisis. Save the Children Philippines CEO Alberto Muyot told Business Mirror that now would be the key time to put menstrual health at the forefront of public health solutions. Currently, Save the Children Philippines is providing resources like hygienic kits and food offerings to combat the pandemic.

Addressing the period stigma is another initiative that comes in the form of an innovative strategy. Menstrual cups have had a profound impact on period poverty around the world; as a more economical and comfortable option than their disposable counterparts, they provide a solution that generally improves the standard of living. Sinaya Cup, a small business, retails menstrual cups catered to the specific needs and challenges girls face in the Philippines. For instance, besides promoting menstrual cups solely as an eco-friendly and comfortable solution, Sinaya Cup also promises a waterproof quality important to girls who wish to participate in recreational activities like biking, trekking and climbing.

The attitudes surrounding menstrual health is a global issue that chronically impacts the economic wellbeing of women. Addressing the stigma requires a multifaceted solution. The emergence of COVID-19 has amplified concerns regarding where women fit into the public health conversation, making now the opportune time to address the issue of period poverty. Dismantling period poverty in the Philippines might begin with government and community initiatives, but the state must consider adapting its sectarian views to accommodate the needs of women’s health.

– Danielle Han
Photo: Unsplash

Period Products Bill in ScotlandOn November 24, 2020, a groundbreaking moment occurred that changed the struggle against period poverty. The Scottish Parliament passed the Period Products Bill in Scotland. This new bill guarantees free access to necessary hygienic period products to all who require them. Member of the Scottish Parliament, Monica Lennon, championed the fight against period poverty in Scotland and played a significant part in passing this revolutionary legislation.

Ending Period Poverty in Scotland

Even with the United Kingdom being one of the world’s wealthiest countries, period poverty remains a recurrent problem. In 2018, more than 20% of those polled in Scotland stated that they either had limited or no access to period products. Another 10% had to sacrifice food and other necessities to afford them. One in 10 experienced bacterial or fungal infections due to a lack of sanitary products. These rates have gone up to nearly one in four during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new Period Products Bill in Scotland practically eliminates these problems. Accessibility to sanitary products must be made by the Scottish Government and organized countrywide. Public restrooms in educational institutions must contain a variety of period products without charge and it also allows oversight over local jurisdictions to ensure enforcement of the law.

Ending Menstruation Taboos

Menstruation has become a stigmatized topic worldwide, despite half the population experiencing it. The dangerous and outdated idea that periods are not appropriate for discussion and seriousness is damaging to those subjected to these taboos.

From South America to Africa, antiquated menstruation views have led to long-lasting negative consequences for those suffering from period poverty. In some cultures, menstruating girls and women must separate themselves from the rest of their community. In Nepal, so-called ‘menstruation huts‘ have dire consequences for women, with local organizations stating that many deaths associated with the practice go unreported.

The importance of ending taboos about menstruation is evident. The Period Products Bill in Scotland is a meaningful step to engage the rest of the world over these unsound presuppositions of menstruation and begin addressing period poverty globally.

Implementing Period Poverty Legislation Worldwide

There has already been worldwide attention brought to the neoteric Period Products Bill in Scotland. Lennon has been fielding communications from leaders and lawmakers around the world, ready to implement similar laws in their own countries. According to Lennon, “Scotland has provided a blueprint and shown how it can be done.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, logistical problems of supplying period products and economic suffering are causing governments to reevaluate the impact of period poverty. Countries with strong infrastructure can utilize Scotland’s approach to combat the worsening situation fast and effectively. The rest of the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia have already taken note of the problem and Scotland’s practical policy.

Ending Global Period Poverty

In underdeveloped countries, Scotland’s lead in the battle against period poverty can pave the way for education and destigmatizing menstruation. Poverty-fighting organizations can create similar international implementation plans in developing nations with little investment. Thanks to Scotland’s leadership, period poverty may soon become as antiquated as the stigmas surrounding it.

– Zachary Kunze
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Singapore
Period poverty in Singapore is not only detrimental to the poor, but it is particularly detrimental for women in poverty. Unfortunately, many do not see period poverty as a substantial issue. Rather than appropriately encouraging and educating adolescent women about their menstrual cycles, many women receive shame for it. Mental health and physical issues are also apparent due to period poverty in Singapore. The lack of access to proper menstrual materials pushes Singaporean women into using unsafe materials for their cycles. As a result, women develop a number of health issues such as bacterial vaginosis, urinary tract infections, green or white vaginal discharge and vaginal and skin irritation.

Mental Health Issues

Mental health issues are also important to consider when discussing period poverty. It is a serious necessity to one’s overall well-being and when overlooked, it can have drastic consequences. Individuals who experience severe aversive conditions such as shame and guilt are more likely to experience negative mental issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In Singapore specifically, it is taboo to discuss one’s menstruation cycle.

This resulting cultural attitude that egregiously directs shame toward Singaporean women and children can make women more likely to develop PTSD. Even in cases when PTSD is not present, findings have determined that the absence of proper menstrual products is due to higher rates of depression, anxiety and distress. Naturally, the issue with period poverty also has links to issues of other forms of poverty. Vanessa Paranjothy recounts that this is especially arduous in areas where there is a lack of running water, plumbing and electricity. Another issue regarding menstruation mishandling in Singapore involves women’s lack of access to the materials necessary to overcome period poverty.

Freedom Cups Helping Women

However, women in Singapore have found their own ways to address the period poverty crisis. One example includes a group of sisters, Joanne, Rebecca and Vanessa Paranjothy and their creation of Freedom Cups. These devices function as reusable tampons and pads, effectively containing menstrual blood. As long they receive proper washing, these devices are re-usable for a span of up to 10 years, without the high risk of infection as with reusing pads. Moreover, these items are able to gather menstrual fluid for up to 12 hours per individual use.

Due to the reusability of these Freedom Cups, women are able to better afford the product, without furthering their fall into period-related poverty. Additionally, the Paranjothy sisters supply one freedom cup to another woman in need for each cup sold. So far, the sisters have distributed Freedom Cups to more than 3,000 women. This, however, is not the end of the sisters’ efforts. They continue making efforts across the world to end period poverty, such as in the Philippines.

Further Initiatives

Widespread organizational efforts also address period poverty in Singapore. Groups such as The World Federation of United Nations Associations had marked success with its Mission Possible: Singapore or Pink Project. This project involved the mass donation of menstrual and other health products to the Star Shelter as well as the Tanglin Trust School and the advertisement of the issue of period poverty to the areas.

However, of all of the efforts done to alleviate period poverty, foreign aid and involvement are the most crucial. The issues that exist regarding menstruation mishandling in Singapore are reflective of many of the issues across the world. Many women still experience feelings of shame and a lack of adequate care when it comes to their menstrual cycles. Vanessa Paranjothy recounts that, despite their efforts to initially provide Freedom Cups to women in the Philippines, only married women received them.

Without the continued investment into education regarding how to perceive their bodies and access to suitable menstrual materials, women will continue to suffer the adverse effects of period poverty. However, actions involving donation and innovation of feminine hygiene products, such as those the Paranjothy sisters made, and a greater emphasis on sexual education can help alleviate period poverty in Singapore and other developing countries.

– Jacob Hurwitz
Photo: Flickr

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

Period Poverty in Pakistan

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

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

Misinformation of Menstruation and Hygiene Practices

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

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

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

Innovative Programs Fighting Period Poverty

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

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

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

Anushka Somani
Photo: Flickr

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

3 Organizations Fighting Period Poverty in Ethiopia

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

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

Allie Beutel
Photo: Flickr 

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

Period Poverty

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

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

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

Global Health

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

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

Employment

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

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

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

Sienna Bahr
Photo: Flickr