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

3 Organizations Fighting Period Poverty in Ethiopia

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

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

Allie Beutel
Photo: Flickr 

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

Period Poverty

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

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

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

Global Health

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

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

Employment

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

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

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

Sienna Bahr
Photo: Flickr

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

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

Period Poverty in Malawi and Education

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

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

ActionAid’s Work to Eradicate Period Poverty in Malawi

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

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

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

– Nina Forest
Photo: Flickr

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

Days For Girls

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

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

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

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

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

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

Included in the kit there are:

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

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

SERniña

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

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

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

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

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

Sallie Blackmon
Photo: Flickr

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

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

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

Feminist Organizations

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

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

Government Policies

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

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

Jingyan Zhang
Photo: Flickr

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

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

Accessibility to Supplies

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

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

Movement Restrictions

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

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

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

Legislation

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

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

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

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

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

– June Noyes
Photo: Flickr

Girls in Africa
Puberty is a difficult time of life for many adolescent girls worldwide. During puberty, girls may face numerous challenges such as abuse, sexual harassment, unplanned pregnancy and early marriage, all of which pose a threat to their health and psychological well-being. When girls lack the knowledge and tools to navigate puberty safely, these challenges become even more difficult. For girls in Africa, this time can be particularly challenging. However, ZanaAfrica Foundation is an NGO in Kenya helping to provide girls with health education as well as menstrual supplies to help them navigate their periods and stay in school.

Menstruation Myths

Misconceptions about menstruation are common in many communities around the world. In these areas, many consider being female and having a period as shameful and suspicious. A girl’s first period is often a miserable time because of stigma in the local society. At least 50% of adolescent girls in Ethiopia do not receive any information about menstruation before their first periods. The belief is that when girls begin menstruating, they are no longer virgins. At times, some parents punish girls because they believe their periods began as a result of their daughters having sex. The Asembo in Kenya believe that a daughter who is menstruating should not sleep in her mother’s home because the young person is unclean. Myths such as this can make girls in Africa feel unaccepted by their mothers and their communities.

In East Africa, 80% of all girls have no access to health education or sanitary pads. Meanwhile, in Kenya, two out of three girls are unable to access menstrual products regularly. Many girls use homemade cloths or rags, but these solutions can lead to infection, and often they are not very effective. Due to shame and fear, many girls do not attend school when menstruating. In seventh grade, the proportion of girls dropping out of school is 7.1% in comparison to boys at 6.8%. In eighth grade, the dropout gap widens by 0.7%.

Obtaining an education is key to avoiding the grind of poverty, so the girls can get jobs upon graduation. Missing school because of menstruation leads to girls not graduating, thereby consigning girls in Africa to a lifetime of lower-paying work or worse, no paying work. A 2015 study in Kenya revealed that one out of 10 girls engaged in transactional sex in order to obtain menstrual pads.

ZanaAfrica

ZanaAfrica is a nonprofit based in Kenya that focuses on girls’ education and healthcare. The organization works to disseminate information and menstrual products, to keep young women from dropping out of school and thereby avoid eventual poverty. ZanaAfrica’s research shows that healthcare information and menstrual pads win back 75% of learning days at school.

ZanaAfrica leads a global advocacy effort to break the taboo around menstrual periods. Deeply engrained taboos, as well as the lack of communal rites-of-passage that once supported girls during adolescence, leave girls to navigate puberty on their own. Young girls can enter situations in which they receive pressure to have sex or another person touches them inappropriately, but they do not realize that they have the right to say no. As a result, 20% of Kenyan girls ages 15-19 are pregnant, 60% quit before finishing high school and 66% of new HIV infections are in adolescent girls in Africa.

The Publication, “Nia Teen”

To help counter the rising tide of unwanted pregnancy, disease and leaving school, which creates a vicious cycle of poverty, ZanaAfrica publishes a health magazine called “Nia Teen.” Its goal is to improve the health and agency of girls living in the worst informational and economic poverty. The organization has also created a 24-session facilitated health education curriculum.

“Nia Teen” draws from a database of more than 10,000 questions from 1,000 girls. Each issue intends to create behavior change as well as knowledge retention. The publication gives guidance, affirmation and information about menstrual health and puberty. It also celebrates real girls’ accomplishments and features their heroes. A comic in the magazine demonstrates healthy decision-making and comes with a discussion guide. ZanaAfrica believes that when girls receive honest answers to their questions, they gain the confidence to realize their potential and affirmation of their voices. When girls learn about reproductive health, they are better able to make decisions and are more likely to make positive choices for their future.

ZanaAfrica’s Impact

Over the past four years, ZanaAfrica has worked with partners across Kenya to provide over 10,000 girls per year with cotton underwear and sanitary pads, as well as reproductive health education. Since 2013, it has impacted nearly 50,000 girls with the tools they need to thrive. In 2015, ZanaAfrica received a $2.9 million four-year research grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to test the impact of its health education interventions and menstrual pads on health, safety and education for girls in Africa.

COVID-19’s Impact on Girls in Kenya

With Kenyan schools closed until 2021 due to COVID-19, millions of girls are dealing with challenges that the pandemic has worsened. Girls who are not in school are at increased risk for anxiety, depression, pregnancy, sexual violence and ongoing trauma. Support for groups like ZanaAfrica is more crucial than ever since COVID-19 has made it even more difficult for girls in Africa to stay safe.

– Sarah Betuel
Photo: Flickr

Women Are More LikelyGlobally, women are faced with the invisible burdens of gender inequality which are entrenched deeply within institutional structures and communities as a whole. These prejudices may limit a woman’s access to higher employment and assistance programs, ultimately leading to higher rates of poverty, especially among women of color. As of 2018, the poverty rate for women was 12.9% compared to the 10.6% rate among men. There are several reasons why women are more likely to live in poverty.

Educational Inequalities

In many developing countries, women are more likely to be denied an education, as nearly 25% of all girls have not completed primary school education and two-thirds of women make up the world’s illiteracy rate. In Somalia, for example, only 7% of girls are enrolled in primary school. The lack of education among women may result in higher pregnancy and poverty rates. According to the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, a girl’s education is a driving force in their economic well-being. Somalia suffers from one of the world’s worst educational systems and is one of the poorest countries as well, having a poverty rate of 73%. With education, females can increase their access to higher-paying jobs, and thus, benefit the family’s income., which results in a positive cycle for generations, bettering the economy overall.

Women Are Paid Less

Despite having the same qualifications and working the same hours, women are more likely to get paid less than men. Worldwide, women earn nearly 20% less than men. These variances within wages affect women in low-paying jobs and poorer countries dramatically. Closing the gender wage gap can result in overall equal income distribution. In the United States alone, closing the wage gap would mean that half the poverty rate of working women and their families would be cut.

Period Poverty

Around the world, many females may suffer from period poverty: inadequate access to hygienic menstrual products and menstrual education. The lack of education is related to the stigma periods carry. Periods have been associated with immense shame for a long time and this stigma is carried throughout communities, deeply limiting girls’ opportunities. Globally, periods are the reason why girls are absent from school at a disproportionate rate, as two out of three girls in developing countries are skipping school during their period. In India, 23 million menstruating girls drop out of school annually because of a shortage in hygienic wash facilities and products. Without an education, females are less likely to obtain a high-paying job and escape poverty.

Domestic Violence and Sexual Exploitation

One in three females globally fall victim to some form of domestic or sexual violence in their lifetime. Girls and women who grow up in poverty are also at an increased risk of experiencing such crimes. Victims of domestic or sexual violence can be impacted through the degradation of their physical or mental health, loss of employment or are ultimately driven into homelessness. Globally, females lose out on nearly eight million days of employment every year as a direct result of violent acts committed against them. According to a survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, domestic violence was the root cause of women becoming homeless in half of all the cities surveyed.

Pregnancy

Economically, females are potentially burdened with the costs of pregnancy, including the additional fees of caring for a child, more significantly than men. Custodial mothers are twice as likely to be poor compared to custodial fathers. Further, unplanned pregnancies can be detrimental to a woman’s income as being unable to work immediately after giving birth means no pay, especially in the informal working sector. In the developing world, nearly 12 million girls aged 15-19 give birth each year, which often results in the end of the girls’ education and the beginning of child marriage. Children who are born from early pregnancies or marriages more often than not enter the same cycle of poverty and no education.

Organizations for Female Empowerment

Malala Yousafzai started the Malala Fund after members of the Pakistani Taliban shot her for advocating the right for girls to be educated. Since then, Malala has built her project into a global initiative that furthers the goal of providing free quality education to young girls in developing countries.

The Orchid Project is a global initiative to end female genital mutilation (FGM). The Orchid Project functions as a platform that raises awareness of the areas where FGM is most prevalent and advocates against the practice. The Orchid Project has brought together more than 193 countries with the collective goal of abolishing FGC by 2030.

Women for Women is an NGO that works to aid those who are in hostile conflict zones and are the victims of collateral damage. Women for Women helps to uplift these victims of violence by providing them with tools, support and education so that they may earn a living and remain stable through the direst of circumstances. Women for Women has helped more than half a million women in countries that have been directly impacted by war and conflicts.

Empowering Women Means Reducing Global Poverty

Females in developing countries experience complexities that restrict their development and progression. Organizations are helping to raise awareness of these complexities and aid women in need. Since women are more likely to experience inequalities that push them into poverty, empowering women ultimately means alleviating global poverty.

– Maya Falach
Photo: Flickr

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

The General Problem

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

Period Poverty in China

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

Campaign for a lower tampon tax

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

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

The “Stand by Her” Project

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

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

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

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

– Jingyan Zhang
Photo: Flickr

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

Period Poverty

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

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

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

Domestic Violence

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

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

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

Moving Forward

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

Alison Ding
Photo: Flickr