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

UNFPA Tanzania is Educating Both Girls and Boys on Menstruation

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

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

WomensChoice Industries

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

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

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

Made With Hope

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

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

– Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Sri Lanka
Located off the southern coast of India, Sri Lanka is home to almost 22 million people, 52% of whom are female. Despite its small geographic size, the country ranks 73 on the Gender Inequality Index, but behind that figure stands a monthly challenge for the nearly 12 million women and girls – having their period. This article will explore period poverty in Sri Lanka as well as three initiatives aiming to combat it.

What is Period Poverty?

Period poverty refers to the lack of education on menstruation, as well as having little to no access to essential sanitation for basic hygiene during the menstruation period. These factors frequently result in social stigmas that exclude women from basic activities, such as attending school or work and can lead to physical health risks. Period poverty in Sri Lanka takes the form of association with the impurity of the body. The subject is taboo, creating a culture of fear and misinformation. In a survey from 2015, 66% of girls were unaware they were going to have a period until their first one occurred. When they did have their period, more than a third of the girls reported missing one or two days of school to avoid embarrassment and stigma. However, over the past decades, three initiatives to eliminate period poverty in Sri Lanka have emerged.

3 Initiatives to Eliminate Period Poverty in Sri Lanka

  1. Sinidu: A new, local and affordable pad has entered the market. Inspired by the Indian social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham’s low-cost pad-making machine and funded by the SAARC Chamber Women Entrepreneurs Council (SCWEC), Sinidu, an organic pad, sells in Sri Lanka at a third of the cost of competitors. A pack of 10 imported pads costs upwards of R.s, 200-250, and commercially-produced pads are not much better at R.s. 150-200. The national minimum wage of Sri Lanka is R.s. 10,000. Given that the average woman uses 20 pads per month, or spend about R.s. 400, they spend about 4% of their salary on the necessity. For comparison, the average household expenditure on meat is 4.8%. At R.s 60 per packet, Sinidu has decreased expenditures related to pads to 1.2%.
  2. Reduced Taxes on Sanitary Products: Taxes on sanitary napkins has significantly decreased. Until 2018, sanitary napkins received a tax of 101.2% of their sales price. For low-income Sri Lankans, the tax significantly impacted their ability to afford the napkins. Only 30% of Sri Lankan women could afford to use sanitary napkins, meaning 70% of women had to use cloth, which, when not sanitized properly, can lead to health risks such as reproductive and urinary tract infections. However, after the social media outrage in September 2018, the Minister of Finance repealed the 30% import tax.
  3. Free Sanitary Napkins: Awareness of women’s rights issues – including addressing period poverty – is increasing. During the 2019 presidential election, presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa attempted to win over women voters by promising free sanitary napkins to all women and girls. Though he faced criticism and the country ultimately did not elect him, he successfully called attention to the issue of period poverty in Sri Lanka.

Period poverty in Sri Lanka remains a challenge. However, through these three advancements, access to sanitary napkins in Sri Lanka has improved.

– Charlotte Ehlers
Photo: Flickr

period poverty in Ghana
Ghana, formally known as the Gold Coast, was the first African country to achieve independence from British colonial rule. Ghana is a leading country in Africa but continues to struggle with poverty. Period poverty in Ghana is a prevailing issue, especially in rural areas. One study in the Zabzugu and North Dayi districts found that 95% of girls in the region missed school due to menstruation.

The causes of period poverty vary. However, the key factors are affordability, lack of education on periods and a dearth of access to menstrual materials. Grassroots and international organizations have stepped in to help solve these issues. An end to period poverty in Ghana is achievable through various strategies.

Eliminating the Tax on Menstruation Materials

 In Ghana, there is currently a 20% import tax on menstruation materials because the country considers them a “luxury” item. This creates a price increase that makes it difficult for families in low-income households to afford these items. An income report on rural Ghanaian cocoa farmers, for example, estimated a monthly income of GHS 1,464 equating to about $329 USD.

The estimated cost of one pad in Ghana averages to about GHS 5. Organizations that support healthy menstruation management, like J-Initiative, believe the Ghanaian government should remove the tax on these materials. #FREEMYPERIOD and #DONTTAXMYPERIOD are just a few of the grassroots campaigns created by advocacy groups urging Ghana’s government to consider menstruation materials as essential.

Recently, Ghanaian youth activists were successful in a six-month-long NOPADTAX campaign. Organizers garnered 2,000 signatures for a petition advocating for the removal of the tax. They presented the petition to the Ghanaian government on Menstrual Hygiene day, May 28, 2020.

The Ghanaian government heard the call for change and responded with a promising answer. At a political event held on August 22, 2020, Ghana’s vice president Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia said that “We will eliminate import duties on sanitary pads to improve health conditions, particularly for girls. It is very important. What we intend [on] doing is to make sure we produce sanitary pads in Ghana [and] until that happens in their numbers, we are going to eliminate import duties to bring down their cost.” Organizers view this as a prominent step toward ending period poverty in Ghana.

Manufacturing at Home

Ghanaian advocacy groups have proposed manufacturing menstrual materials like sanitary pads and reusable sanitary cloths. Organizations like Days For Girls have been working to create alternative solutions to combat period poverty across the globe. This organization employs local women and girls to produce reusable sanitary pads utilizing local materials.

The Ghanaian chapter of the Days for Girls organization has provided 10,000 girls across all 10 regions of Ghana with free menstruation kits through its initiative. Many Ghanaian advocacy groups have proposed grassroots manufacturing initiatives for menstruation materials as an economically and environmentally sustainable solution. Organizers believe that manufacturing menstruation materials on the ground would reduce costs and increase accessibility for these vital products.

Providing Menstrual Supplies

Providing menstruation supplies is another proposal to combat period poverty in Ghana. The Global Partnership for Education and DFID has offered to fund possible scholarship programs that seek to supply sanitary pads and school supplies for girls living in rural Ghana.

The Muslimah Mentorship Network, a Ghanaian based organization, created a campaign entitled #1Girl12Pad. This campaign aimed to provide menstruation materials and education on menstruation hygiene for Ghanaian girls. The group visited a school located in the northern region of Ghana and provided almost 300 girls with 12 packs of sanitary pads each, which is enough to last a whole year. The organization’s goal is to implement the campaign in three schools in each region of rural Ghana.

These kinds of initiatives also hope to encourage girls to continue to attend school while menstruating.

Education on Menstruation

Ghana has a variety of misconceptions and stigmas about menstruation. A popular belief is that menstruation is unclean, leading to mismanagement in menstrual hygiene. Organizations are taking the steps to educate both young women and men about menstruation. With proper education, Ghanaian girls will be better equipped to manage their periods and feel more confident with the idea of menstruating.

Advocacy groups hope that Ghana will place more importance on the value of proper menstrual hygiene and menstrual supplies through this increased knowledge. Education on menstruation is a vital tool in helping to reduce misinformation and stigma surrounding menstruation.

Normalizing Healthy Menstrual Hygiene Management

A healthy understanding of how to manage menstruation is vital. Menstrual hygiene management offers coping mechanisms to girls who suffer from cramps, headaches and other side effects of menstruation. Reports state that these coping skills help encourage girls to continue attending school while on their period.

One study on menstrual health management reports that pain was the leading cause of girls missing school. Healthy menstrual management combats this while also providing girls with crucial information on proper hygiene practices, like changing sanitary pads. Menstruation management can counteract the likelihood of hazardous practices that can lead to infection.

Period poverty is a prevailing issue in Ghana. However, there are many efforts to provide sustained solutions. Education on menstruation, healthy menstrual hygiene management and supply distribution and the elimination of the import tax on menstruation materials provide a feasible way to end period poverty in Ghana. 

Imani Smikle
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in South Sudan
Period poverty occurs when women and girls struggle to afford menstrual products, including tampons, pads, menstrual cups, underwear and painkillers. Period poverty is present in both developing and developed nations and has negative effects on women’s education, work-life and health. Many women are subject to period poverty in South Sudan; however, even outside of the nation, South Sudanese women and girls are affected.

Since the beginning of South Sudan’s civil war in 2013, more than 2 million people have fled their homes, and many have landed in refugee settlements in neighboring countries like Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda. In and around South Sudan, women without adequate menstruation resources face additional challenges in daily life.

Perception of Menstruation

Even though menstruation is a fact of life for most women, cultural taboos prevent conversations about this topic. As a result, many school-age girls in South Sudan are not taught about menstruation and how to safely care for themselves before getting their first period.

A 2014 study conducted across South Sudan found that 28.4% of young, female respondents consider menstruation to be a disease. In the Lopa-Lafon county alone, more than 60% hold this belief. Country-wide, 48.7% of respondents think that menstrual blood is dangerous, 58.2% believe that women are unclean during menstruation and 59.9% believe that if a woman has pain while on her period she is unhealthy.

Consequences

The consequences of upholding secrecy around menstruation in South Sudan are severe. Coupled with low resources, women in refugee settlements and impoverished communities often use rags, newspapers, leaves or banana peels as substitutes for pads. When these items fail and breakthrough bleeding occurs, women are often met with aversion and jokes. Since menstrual blood is considered dirty, women must bathe and wash their rags far from any communal water source. This reduces women’s capacity for frequent washing and increases their risk of infection.

Some, especially refugees, are forced to isolate themselves during menstruation because there is no other way to hide their period. This often prevents girls from sleeping at home or going to school. As a result, girls lose up to three months of classes each year, causing them to fall behind. Furthermore, when period poverty interferes with girls’ education, they are more likely to drop out of school and be married at a young age, often having children shortly after. Globally, the leading cause of death for girls ages 15-19 is pregnancy and childbirth complications.

Combatting Period Poverty

Period poverty in South Sudan is a threat to girls’ education and livelihoods. According to the 2014 survey, about 70% of girls in South Sudan do not have enough money to buy sanitary pads, and 27% of girls in primary school say pads are not available in their area. Fortunately, organizations are working to combat period poverty in South Sudan.

SmilePad gets its name from the smiles it puts on girls’ faces when they are given this reusable, cotton-and-plastic sanitary pad. The pad can be washed and reused for months and comes in a three-pack along with a couple of pairs of underwear. UNICEF funds the project and the NGOs that buy and distribute the pads to communities in South Sudan. The goal is to help girls manage their periods so they can stay in school.

The Freedom Pads Project has distributed 1,500 reusable pads to women and girls in refugee camps in Uganda and South Sudan. Founder Akeer Chut-Deng also tries to provide a space for learning about menstruation and women’s health in the schools and communities she visits.

Men4Women is an organization devoted to raising awareness and improving education about menstruation for men and women. While handing out sanitary pads in schools, they begin the conversation about the taboo subject, hoping that both girls and boys will grow more comfortable talking about periods to end the stigma and promote women’s health.

Moving Forward

While period poverty remains a significant issue in South Sudan, there is hope for the future. The efforts of these organizations to combat period poverty in South Sudan is essential. Moving forward, more work must be done to provide menstrual products and reduce the social stigma surrounding menstruation.

McKenna Black
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Cambodia
Period poverty affects women and girls around the globe who cannot afford safe, sanitary products or are unable to receive information about safe period practices due to stigma. Poor period hygiene can lead to many health risks, such as urinary tract infections and reproductive infections. About 50% of the people in Cambodia are women, but people do not talk about period poverty as they deem it a taboo subject.

As of 2019, the poverty rate in Cambodia was 12.9%. However, this number is expected to increase to around 20% due to the coronavirus pandemic. This rise in the poverty rate will leave millions of women and girls vulnerable. Here are five facts regarding period poverty in Cambodia.

5 Facts About Period Poverty in Cambodia

  1. Girls are often in shock when they get their first period. Periods in Cambodia are known as “mokrodou” or the coming season. Notably, many public schools do not teach health education or menstrual hygiene. Cambodians view periods as dirty, which makes menstruation a taboo subject within the country. Consequently, mothers pass down information to daughters, which causes the following of cultural, instead of medical norms. Girls may not shower during their period to keep their skin clean. Parents also forbid girls from swimming for fear they will dirty the water. Finally, parents forbid these girls from eating certain foods believed to disrupt the menstrual cycle.
  2. Of schools in Cambodia, 50% do not have a reliable water supply. In addition to not having reliable water, 33% of schools do not have latrines. Period poverty in Cambodia greatly affects girls in school. Even if girls learn about sanitary period practices, it is difficult to maintain sanitation when schools do not have water or toilets. UNICEF has found that a lack of sanitation facilities can increase a girl’s likelihood to skip school during their period. While at school, girls do not have access to clean, sanitary pads or private facilities to properly dispose of products. Therefore, they prefer to use a toilet and have privacy at home.
  3. Most people cannot afford proper sanitary pads. The national poverty line is $0.93 per person, per day. In Cambodia, a pack of six sanitary pads costs around $3 and they are often difficult to find. Consequently, girls and women often use rags for days at a time instead of sanitary products. This, in turn, often leads to infections, which left untreated can cause permanent health problems, like infertility.
  4. Some schools have implemented menstruation education programs. Snor Khley primary school has recognized the issue of period poverty in Cambodia. It has begun to implement menstrual health management classes to help students better manage their periods. The class encourages both boys and girls to talk openly about menstrual health to destigmatize the subject. The school has also introduced new, hygienic school facilities for girls to practice safe hygiene. Additionally, the school distributes the “Growth and Changes Booklet,” which discusses puberty, to all students. The book has helped more than 122,000 students gain a better understanding of the physical and emotional changes that occur during puberty.
  5. Reusable Maxi Pads are emerging as sanitary alternatives. Sovanvotey Hok started a business called Green Lady, which makes environmentally friendly and affordable menstrual products. Apart from making affordable products, the business also employs local housewives to make the products. The reusable pads last up to three years and 1,850 pads have been sold. Green Lady’s product prevents the use of about 96,000 disposable pads, most of which contain noxious materials such as bleach.

An End to Period Poverty

Period poverty in Cambodia is a threat to women’s health as unsanitary period practices lead to infections. Period poverty also affects women’s ability to receive an education as many schools do not have the proper facilities to support menstruating girls. However, as the use of reusable period products becomes more mainstream and continued education and programs in schools develop — hopefully, the stigma surrounding periods will come to an end.

Rae Brozovich
Photo: Flickr

Menstrual StigmaMillions of women and girls around the globe are affected by period poverty every day. Countless women must choose between food and menstrual products. Due to insufficient access to menstrual products and/or menstrual stigma, schoolgirls often miss school when they are on their periods. Some teenagers even use unhygienic insoles of shoes to substitute menstrual products, which may lead to further physical health risks due to bacterial infections. Moreover, other women resort to free contraceptive injections (which stops the release of an egg) when they cannot afford menstrual products. This, in turn, leads to health risks such as significant bone mineral density loss.

People widely consider period poverty as insufficient access to menstrual products. While this accounts for a major portion of period poverty, the term also refers to issues of shame, menstrual stigma, and the lack of education about menstruation. Around 50% of girls in the U.K. experience menstrual shame and around 70% of girls in Uganda are embarrassed and fearful about menstruating.

Access to Period Products Worldwide

Globally, a minimum of 500 million women experiences period poverty, every month. Among the 355 million menstruators in India, 12% cannot afford period products. Similarly, 65% of females in Kenya are unable to afford menstrual products. Menstruation products are extremely difficult to access because of their high costs. This, even though these products are a necessity. They are perceived as luxury products to millions because many countries still do not accept the products as “daily necessities” and still have not abolished the value-added tax (VAT) on menstrual products. The 2020 tax rate on menstrual products in Hungary marked 27%, followed by Sweden with 25% and Mexico with 16%. Some of the countries that abolished VAT on menstrual products include Malaysia, Lebanon, Tanzania, Ireland among others.

Effects of Menstrual Stigma

Women and girls face period stigma every day. Menstrual stigma causes women and girls to feel embarrassment and shame about their healthy bodies. Furthermore, it keeps them at home when they should be at school — affecting their education and social life. In Nepal, the community expels menstruating women to huts when they are on their period cycles because menstruators are perceived as impure. In Uganda, 70% of girls feel embarrassed to be on their periods and are afraid of menstrual-related accidents. This fear is such that more than 50% of the population skips school to avoid teasing from classmates. In the U.K., 50% of girls feel ashamed of their periods. One anecdote shared that a girl and her classmates suffered great embarrassment when a male teacher taught them about menstruation.

The Pink Protest

Many nonprofit organizations are actively fighting against period poverty. Other than NGOs, period poverty activists create many campaigns that also work toward ending period poverty. Based in the U.K., The Pink Protest works with period poverty activists on the #FreePeriods campaign, to “call on the British government to put an end to British period poverty.” A teenage activist, Amika George, initiated the #FreePeriods campaign in 2017 after she read a report by BBC that 10% of girls cannot afford menstrual products in the U.K. On a winter day in 2017, the campaign gathered 2,000 people to protest. People held up signs saying “bleeding is not a luxury,” “ditch tax on Tampax,” “we are not ovary-acting” along with many celebrities and period poverty activists giving impactful speeches. This included model Adwoa Aboah, Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom Jess Phillips, comedian Deborah Frances-White, period poverty activist Chella Quint, and more.

The Pink Protest has accomplished to become a part of the change of two U.K. laws. Also, they acknowledge that engagement of young people and the utilization of online activism have helped them in this goal. The Pink Protest is a good example of how society can utilize social media to fight period poverty. With their weekly Instagram series ‘On Wednesdays We Wear Pink and Protest,’ The Pink Protest encourages young people across the globe to take one action each week. In this way, young people may become activists, themselves. The Pink Protest hopes that as it provides an exciting and easy way to involve people in activism (through regular campaigns and video series), they can “redefine what activism means to young people”. In this way, they can “create a way for activism to be not just accessible, but also fun.”

The Role of Social Media

According to The Pew Research Center, 70% of Americans use social media and 90% of the people aged 18–29 use at least one social media site. It is also surveyed that 90% of teenagers aged 13–17 have experienced social media and 51% visit social media sites, daily.

The U.N. also discussed the power of social media and how it can help to reduce period poverty. According to the U.N., social media has the power to raise public awareness and get people more involved. As mentioned previously, period poverty is about insufficient access to menstrual products and menstrual stigma. Therefore, openly sharing information about this via social media, which many teenagers and young adults use, can reduce menstrual stigma. Sharing information through posts and infographics alone are good ways to educate others and increase attention to period poverty. Social media engages young people to become period poverty activists. Consequently, this increases the chance that young people become more compassionate and active with menstruators. The millions of women struggling from period poverty around the world stand to benefit greatly.

Alison Choi
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Period Poverty in Indonesia
Indonesia is the largest country in Southeast Asia and the world’s third-largest democracy. It is a nation of economic and cultural crossroads, yet the country has made little progress in women’s health, rights and education. One can define period poverty as inadequate access to hygienic, proper menstrual products and proper menstrual education. The prevalence of period poverty in Indonesia continues to lead to discrimination against girls and adversely affects their health, education quality and empowerment. However, some are making progress towards ending the stigma and improving menstrual health management (MHM) for the 24 million adolescent girls who have or will soon reach menarche in Indonesia.

Overview of Period Poverty in Indonesia

Women and girls in Indonesia face numerous challenges during menstruation. They often have poor access to comprehensive information about menstruation, lack of appropriate materials to manage menstrual bleeding, inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities (WASH) and harmful socio-cultural taboos. These barriers engender reproductive health risks, low self-esteem among adolescent girls and school-drop out and absenteeism, cultivating vast gender disparities within Indonesia.

Access to Resources

In Indonesia, commercial products, such as tampons and pads, are much less available and are prohibitively expensive. In Indonesian culture, there are many misconceptions surrounding tampon use leading to loss of virginity and blocking the menstrual flow. As a result, women and girls rarely use them. After disposable pads, reusable cloths were the next most frequently used sanitary item, and these were more commonly used in rural areas. It is common for young girls to make their own absorbent hygiene products at home, using materials such as cloths or towels, leaves, newspaper, tissue paper, sponges, sand, ashes and others. Greater access to menstrual products as well as information about menstrual hygiene and management is necessary in Indonesia, and especially in rural communities.

The Stigma and Lack of Knowledge About Menstruation

Many Indonesian communities commonly view periods as dirty and not socially acceptable to discuss. UNICEF Indonesia found that 25% of adolescent girls had not discussed menstruation with anyone before first menses and 17% were not aware that menstruation was a physical sign of puberty. Furthermore, cultural taboos persist in disposing of menstrual products: 78% of girls and mothers washed their disposable pads before wrapping them in a plastic bag and then finally disposing of them. They explained that they washed disposable pads because they considered menstrual blood dirty and wanted to remove the smell and prevent others from discovering that they were menstruating.

Along with the lack of open communication about periods, data from Plan International has shown that many female students do not receive the correct information on how to manage their hygiene and health during menstruation. In the UNICEF study, only two-thirds of urban girls and less than half (41%) of rural girls changed absorbent materials at least every four to eight hours or whenever the material was soiled. Nearly all of the girls interviewed reported that they never or rarely changed materials at school, due to shame and embarrassment about having their period.

Impact on Education

About 80% of girls reported as missing one to two days of school during their last menstruation. School absenteeism due to periods induces large gender disparities in the quality of education. Girls lack the ability to manage menstruation hygienically in most Indonesian schools. In 2015, UNICEF Indonesia conducted a study that found that nearly every girl never changed menstrual pads or cloths at school due to a lack of suitable latrines, inadequate water for washing pads, uncertainty about how to dispose of pads or lack of discrete means of disposal. Fear of others finding out they were menstruating also contributed to girls not bringing pads to school and reluctance to dispose of soiled pads in school bins where other students could see them. Improving MHM among adolescent girls in Indonesia and implementing effective MHM interventions in school is key in ending the stigma and disparities that periods elicit.

PERIOD Indonesia

Despite these barriers, people are taking many strides towards ending period poverty. One teen, A 16-year-old Indonesian youth activist, Alisha Syakira Triawan, founded the Jakarta chapter of PERIOD in October 2019,  in an effort to end the stigma around periods and eliminate period poverty in her conservative community. In an interview with the Malala Fund, Alisha called on the government, schools and families to “provide menstrual education in communities and schools” to address the gender and health disparities that periods incite. She has also led her chapter in participating in Women’s March Jakarta 2020, where it distributed pads to those in the homeless and young girls who could not access or afford menstrual products.

In addition to Alisha’s advocacy work with PERIOD Jakarta, Plan International Indonesia has been working to destigmatize periods and increase educational resources available in Indonesia since 2017. Collaborating with local school committees and government agencies, Plan International Indonesia is implementing a menstrual hygiene management program across five schools in Ende district, Indonesia. When the MHM program first emerged in schools, communities were uneasy and apprehensive to discuss such tabooed topics. However, students were thankful to learn about these topics. Keeping children informed about reproductive health issues leads to a more inclusive and safe environment for girls in schools.

UNICEF and the Indonesian Council of Islamic Scholars

Following UNICEF’s stance that “no adolescent girl or woman anywhere should be denied the right to manage their monthly menstrual cycle in a dignified, healthy way,” in 2018, it implemented a comprehensive initiative in Indonesia to address period poverty. UNICEF teamed up with the Indonesian Council of Islamic Scholars and is currently developing tools and guidance for girls on period health and hygiene based on religious teachings. It is empowering boys and girls with knowledge about MHM creatively through a storybook to provide education about menstrual hygiene and puberty through classrooms throughout the country.

Ending Gender Disparities and Empowering Girls

Promoting menstrual equity is fundamental to supporting women and young girls. The tenacity of girls in Indonesia fused with the work of organizations, such as UNICEF and Plan International Indonesia, are aiding in breaking down the stigma and cultural barriers oppressing young women. Yet, there is still much more that people can do to curtail period poverty in Indonesia. Indonesia and the world must eradicate period poverty to empower women and girls, and allow them to fully participate in all aspects of society.

– Samantha Johnson
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Papua New Guinea
People in Papua New Guinea (PNG) still see the words menstruation or period as taboo. Yet, people are fighting to get the word out that a period is not something to be ashamed of and that addressing period poverty in Papua New Guinea should be a priority.

The Situation in Papua New Guinea

According to 2017 research from the Burnet Institute, an Australian medical research organization, many adolescents girls in PNG are not prepared to have their period and do not have the necessary knowledge about menstruation. As a result, findings have determined that the majority of them feel ashamed about it.

Menstruation is an important time for every adolescent girl. Educating about it helps them deal with the anxiety and anticipation that comes after, especially as understanding menstruation is important in identifying any abnormalities regarding health.

According to a Nationwide Children’s hospital blog article, “Young women should also be educated on what types of menstrual products exist and how to use menstrual products appropriately.” However, many adolescents and women in PNG do not have access to menstrual products or even proper sanitation facilities leading to period poverty and gender inequality.

Taboos About Periods in PNG

Period poverty in Papua New Guinea has been happening for many years now. From a young age, people in PNG have been teaching women, who comprise around 48% of the population, that period blood is “dirty” and “unhealthy.” In rural communities in PNG, the taboo of periods goes as far as women being separated from men and their families during menstruation because their community believes that it will bring bad luck to men and boys. In addition, women cannot even cook or go near food during menstruation because others perceive them as “unclean.”

Additionally, education about menstruation often depends on how comfortable teachers are about the subject. In many cases, girls often feel humiliated by the way teachers treat and teach the subject of menstruation, often reinforcing cultural beliefs.

Lack of Sanitation Facilities

Furthermore, the lack of sanitary places and access to menstrual products, especially in rural areas, only contributes to unsafe practices of cleaning and impacts the lives of many girls and women. Indeed, the majority of them stop going to school or work during their periods because of the fear of experiencing ridicule from their male peers.

Women and girls who live in rural areas also frequently have access to poor quality menstrual products if they can afford them at all. They often use pieces of cloth or second-hand products that can lead to “rashes, discomfort and leakage, which can cause pain and further perpetuate the cycle of shame.”

Implementation of WASH Facilities

The report from the Burnet Institute highlights some of the solutions to overcome and facilitate the management of menstruation to end period poverty and gender inequality in PNG.

One particular solution is the increment of WASH facilities in schools and workplaces. Often, they are not adequate for girls and women to use while on their periods. Some of the problems include a lack of privacy while using toilets and showers, and a deficiency of well-functioning toilets and soap and water for handwashing and personal hygiene.

The good news is that there are many organizations working toward the proper implementation of menstrual hygiene management in PNG. Papua New Guinea’s government, UNICEF and other partner organizations (World Vision, Oxfam and Infra Tech) have been working together since 2016 to carry out a five-year plan to improve water and sanitation in the four districts of PNG including Nawaeb in Morobe, Goroka in the Eastern Highlands, Hagen Central in Western Highlands and Central Bougainville District in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville. The program will significantly improve the quality of life of more than 70,000 people and expectations have determined that it will reach completion by 2021.

Moon Sick Care Bags

Furthermore, since 2017, women in PNG have been receiving Moon Sick Care Bags from women in Queens Island. The bag includes personal underwear, soap, menstrual products, information about the menstrual cycle and even a small bag where they can put their soiled pads. Yolonde Entsch, coordinator and partner of the program, said that “Our Moon Sick Care Bags provide everything a woman or girl needs to manage menstruation with dignity and confidence.”

With time and work, women and girls in PNG will receive the necessary facilities to properly manage their menstruation with dignity, and hopefully, period poverty in Papua New Guinea will no longer prevent women and girls from living their lives.

– Alannys Milano
Photo: Flickr

 

Period Poverty in Uganda
Uganda’s Ministry of Education reported that, as of 2019, nearly one in every four Ugandan girls between ages 12 to 18 will drop out of school once they begin menstruating. For those who do attend school, girls’ absence rates triple from 7% to 28% during their periods. Dropping out of school decreases their likelihood of escaping the cycle of poverty and increases their chances of early marriage and motherhood. Like many other international leaders, the Ugandan minister of higher education, John Chrysostom Muyingo, stresses the importance of girls’ school attendance, adding that this must include proper menstrual health practices. He articulates that period poverty in Uganda seriously jeopardizes Uganda’s likelihood of reaching many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially those which concern gender equality, education and health care.

Understanding Period Poverty in Uganda

The definition of period poverty is inadequate access to menstrual health care and sanitation, as well as the stigma and shame surrounding menstruation that prevents menstruating women from fully participating in society. Poverty, education and a lack of waste and sanitation management exacerbate the global problem of period poverty.

In 2015, the Ugandan government rolled out an initiative to work alongside NGOs and schools to improve access to menstrual care. However, reports indicate that Uganda’s school system has failed to improve these rates. Poor washing and hygiene facilities that make product removal and privacy difficult, as well as the embezzlement of funding for pads and sanitation infrastructure improvements, have hampered the initiative’s success. A profound stigma surrounding menstruation also exists as people often perceive it as dirty and a private matter. This makes educating girls and boys on the matter difficult without proper funding and insistence. Additionally, despite a 2017 tax removal on sanitation products, they still cost around $2 USD per package, unaffordable for those living in poverty.

Developing Sustainable Solutions

Fortunately, several organizations are working tirelessly to combat period poverty in Uganda. The Red Cross and AFRIpads, a local manufacturer, have partnered with the Ugandan government for the Keep a Girl in School Initiative to provide girls with sanitation products and educational services. AFRIpads’ reusable pads help tackle the problems of waste and affordability. The Binance Charity Foundation uses cryptocurrency donations to directly reach women in need to circumvent corruption within the school systems. To date, the organization has helped over 1,400 girls in Uganda pay for sanitation pads.

PLAN International has worked with schools in Torono, Uganda by adding doors to toilets for privacy and creating “menstrual hygiene management clubs.” Both girls and boys between the ages of 11 to 18 learn about periods and make reusable products for the girls to take home. The clubs use songs and other fun activities to create a positive culture surrounding menstruation, using roleplay to combat social norms. Educators have been highly supportive of this initiative and noticed a change in boys’ attitudes and support and girls’ attendance.

Men Making an Impact

This is not the only initiative that has stressed the role of men in creating supportive environments for girls’ health. One church in Mulatsi, Uganda, realized that period poverty was the biggest problem the community reported. One father, Milton, became motivated to improve the situation for his daughters but noted the high cost of pads. With a church organization, he and his community work to educate and make reusable pads, which cost only $1.50 USD and last an entire year. Other men judged Milton for his involvement in this but Milton has insisted that fathers must involve themselves in reducing period poverty in Uganda for their daughters’ sake. The project’s success inspired more churches to join the movement, which has educated 4,800 boys and girls about periods and proper feminine care.

The Ganda Boys are another male group supporting the cause. This group, made up of male musicians, has helped over 2,000 girls gain access to menstrual products using donations they received from their performances. After moving to the U.K., the men give back by working in refugee camps to improve menstrual hygiene education.

Period poverty in Uganda is far from being solved, and it presents a threat to Uganda’s SDGs. Yet, it has presented several opportunities for innovative solutions that can be learned from. While funding for supplies and sanitation improvements may come from all over the world, local communities are working to untangle deep-rooted stigmas. The inclusion of men and boys in educating about women’s and sexual health has contributed to the success of these projects. With continued government and INGO support, period poverty in Uganda can reduce, and more girls can continue their education.

Elizabeth Stankovits
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Bangladesh
The right to hygienic menstruation products may seem like something everyone might agree with. However, this is not the case for millions of women and girls globally. Today, there are about 500 million women and girls suffering from period poverty worldwide. Period poverty does not only pose a huge health risk, but it also affects girls’ whole livelihood.

In Bangladesh, period poverty is visible throughout communities, as many people see menstruation products as a privilege rather than a right. Moreover, approximately 95% of the female population cannot afford sanitary pads, leading to illnesses and increased absences from school or work. The cultural beliefs and social norms place an enormous burden on menstruating women, limiting their participation in the community and preventing real progress from occurring. Here is some information about menstruation and period poverty in Bangladesh.

Education

In Bengali culture, society believes that menstruation is an evil and shameful thing. For example, the women of the northern Bangladesh village, Char Bramagacha menstruate in secret. Women, fearing that evil spirits will attach to their blood, bury their old menstrual cloths in the ground and wash the new cloths before anyone in the village is awake. This behavior is not unique to just this village. The taboos around menstruation are ubiquitous throughout the country and culture. Shopna, a 14-year old Bengali girl, describes being taught that while menstruating, “Hindu girls can’t touch cows or even the cow-shed because cows are holy.”

With only 6% of schools in Bangladesh providing menstrual hygiene education, the immense shame regarding menstruation remains stagnant. Many girls are unaware of how to properly manage their period, while 36% of girls are oblivious about what a period is. Ultimately, this lack of information leads to one in four girls skipping school during their period. By increasing education about menstruation, girls can become more aware of their natural cycles, learn to properly manage them and lessen the shame that comes with menstruating.

WASH Facilities

There are many different layers to menstruation health management, including proper facilities, hygienic products and access to menstruation information. A survey by the World Bank uncovered that on average, Bangladesh households have a challenging time of satisfying all needs for proper menstruation hygiene. In fact, only 23% of women used proper menstrual products. Instead, most of the female population reuses old cloths that they frequently improperly wash or dry, resulting in a higher risk of urinary infections. A lack of hygienic latrines places another burden on women who try their best to hide the fact that they menstruate. In the village Char Bramagacha, there are only 22 hygienic toilets in comparison to the 308 unhygienic ones. These toilets often comprise of bamboo and cloth and do not offer any privacy for women to regularly change their menstrual cloths. Because of the lack of hygiene and privacy, many women miss school or work.

3 Organizations Fighting Period Poverty

  1. Bangladesh WASH Alliance: The Bangladesh WASH Alliance works to promote inclusive and sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene services. In the past six years, the organization has been able to grant 248,837 people access to improved sanitation facilities and 229,989 people with improved water resources. By providing access to hygienic facilities, women have a lesser chance of health risks and absences. The WASH Alliance is also working towards improving gender inequality by expanding women’s social participation and gender-equal practices in WASH businesses.
  2. PERIOD: To combat period poverty and the stigma around menstruation, high schoolers Nadya Okamoto and Vincent Forand established PERIOD, a nonprofit organization that offers homeless women proper menstrual products. As of today, PERIOD has been able to assist approximately 1.2 million women in accessing the proper products for a safe, hygienic period cycle.
  3. Resurgence: Resurgence, founded by three university activists, is another organization working to combat period poverty within Bangladesh. This group has distributed and produced low-cost menstruation pads for thousands of women and girls. Resurgence has achieved this by utilizing an otherwise invasive plant called the water hyacinth as its primary material. It also employs women from these communities to handle the production and distribution of its water hyacinth pads throughout slums, rural areas and other affected locations.

Although societal beliefs place a big burden on the fight against period poverty, Bangladesh is still stepping in the right direction by increasing education about menstrual health and placing international support on gender inequality. Ultimately, the most effective way to combat period poverty has been through foreign aid with a focus on eliminating improper hygiene facilities and misinformation.

– Maiya Falach
Photo: Flickr