Period Poverty in Pakistan
Pakistan has some of the highest rates of period poverty globally, largely resulting from the persistent taboos that surround the issue of menstruation. As much as 80% of young girls in Pakistan drop out of school, partly due to a lack of menstrual education and inadequate supplies/facilities to adequately manage their menstruation. In some rural areas, women are restricted to a single room during their menstrual cycles. With recent floods destroying both homes and sanitation facilities in some areas, many women have no choice but to resort to harmful menstrual management practices.

Period Poverty and the 2022 Floods

In 2022, Pakistan saw some of the worst flooding in the nation’s history. The floods led to the deaths of 1,700 people at a minimum and displaced about 8 million individuals due to the destruction of homes. The floods had numerous knock-on effects, including increased period poverty in Pakistan.

Water submerged more than a third of the country during the height of Pakistan’s 2022 floods, leaving more than 8 million women without the necessary resources or facilities to properly manage their menstruation. During the floods, women resorted to using “plastic bags, leaves, damp newspapers, damp rags and old clothes” due to the lack of proper menstrual products.

Researchers from Aga Khan University Hospital conducted a study on menstrual hygiene among women aged 14-49 in Dadu district, Sindh province, an area that recent floods in Pakistan harshly impacted. Researchers noted that from 2019 to 2021, roughly 40% of the 25,000 females surveyed were not using any menstrual products at all.

While many organizations and national governments came to Pakistan’s aid, pledging more than $9 billion, relief packages did not prioritize menstrual aid as Pakistani society typically avoids the taboo topic. Period poverty and the use of unhygienic alternatives to manage menstruation along with a lack of hygiene facilities can lead to serious health implications, such as infections, toxic shock syndrome and vaginal diseases.

Pakistan heavily taxes menstrual products, placing them under a so-called “luxury tax” despite their necessity. Many women, especially in rural areas, simply cannot afford these supplies, resulting in “79[%]of Pakistani women [suffering] from poor menstrual hygiene every month,” according to The Diplomat.

Mahwari Justice

Mahwari Justice is a menstrual flood relief group that two students, Bushra Mahnoor and Anum Khalid, set up in July 2022. They have distributed menstrual hygiene products in Pakistan since the beginning of last year’s floods. The group believes that breaking the stigma around period poverty is one of the main hurdles when it comes to enabling more women to access period products in Pakistan. The students are unapologetic in the face of taboo with the name Mahwari simply translating to “periods” in Urdu.

The group adapts its menstrual kits to different areas based on the extent of the flooding impacts. For example, for the 660,000 people living in disaster relief camps in Pakistan in September 2022, washable products that can be reused are not suitable given poor water and sanitation access.

However, in areas less affected, teaching women to make their own reusable period products is an effective long-term solution. Mahwari Justice provided 20,000 menstrual kits to females in need at the peak of Pakistan’s 2022 floods. The group has pledged to continue fighting to end period poverty in Pakistan, not only in light of the recent flooding but also to create a brighter future for women and girls in Pakistan.

By putting girls and women at the forefront of relief efforts, aid organizations can prioritize the needs of some of the most marginalized individuals.

– Florence Jones
Photo: Flickr