When discussing poverty and the effects it can have on people, basic hygiene supplies that come to mind are items such as toothpaste, toilet paper and soap. Rarely does anyone think feminine hygiene supplies. Period poverty is the term used to describe a lack of access to feminine sanitary products. All around the world women and girls face the same dilemma regardless of country or culture, with a reported 500 million girls living in period poverty, a number that is beginning to take its toll on women in society.
Period Poverty Is Everywhere
In developed countries, the greatest challenge is fighting the stigma and taxes that accompany what should be a basic healthcare product. The European Union’s five percent tax on sanitary products, known as the ‘tampon tax’, is one of the biggest indicators that something has to change, with 1 in every 10 girls currently unable to afford sanitary products. A nationwide study done in the U.K. showed that over 137,000 girls skipped school regularly due to period poverty. Until 2018, U.S. federal prisons were charging for feminine products. New laws are being passed mandating that menstrual products be provided in public settings, showing change on the horizon but there is still a long way to go.
While women in the U.S. and Europe are fighting stigma, unfair taxes and unequal treatment in regard to period poverty, in underdeveloped countries the situation is even worse. Women and girls in poor countries struggle to gain access to sanitary products on a regular basis.
A study conducted in Uganda showed that close to two-thirds of girls missed at least one day of school each year due to period poverty. In addition to supplies being a commodity, the stigma women face in certain countries borders on taboo. Some cultures believe that those who are menstruating are considered ‘unclean’ or ‘bad luck’, leading to ostracizing and ridiculing these women and girls. In certain regions of Nepal, girls are banished to ‘menstrual huts’ where they must remain shunned until their cycle has ended.
Negative Effects of Living in Period Poverty
Women and girls living in period poverty suffer from more than just embarrassment and societal stigma. In addition to girls missing school, there are physical repercussions to not having sanitary supplies as well. According to the U.N. International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), poor menstrual hygiene can lead to reproductive disorders, urinary tract infections and urogenital diseases, and the risk for infections in those living in period poverty is much higher than those who aren’t.
Fighting Period Poverty
Organizations such as PERIOD, Freedom4Girls and HappyPeriod are working to address the stigma behind menstrual products and to end period poverty through advocating, educating and serving girls across the U.S. Founded by women who understand what it’s like to live in period poverty, these companies are committed to fighting for girls around the world. By providing sanitary products and supplies, they are allowing young girls and women to continue education and lead their lives unaltered by this natural biological occurrence.
Despite being a natural biological occurrence shrouded by stigma for hundreds of years, period poverty is finally coming to the forefront of the public’s concern. It is demonstrating itself to be a worldwide issue that does not discriminate amongst class or culture. PERIOD founder Nadya Okamoto describes the importance of this issue perfectly, “If we invest in women’s empowerment as a key to global development, we need to unite around a universal menstrual movement to ensure that all women and girls are able to discover and reach their full potential.”
– Olivia Bendle