Period poverty is a global socio-economic issue that girls and women face due to the unaffordability of menstrual products and inaccessibility of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities. To address period poverty in Botswana, the nation passed a motion in 2017 to supply free menstrual products to girls in both public and private schools. This will allow girls to continue their education amid their menstrual cycles.
Period Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa
Because menstruation is a taboo topic in conservative communities and countries, many girls lack education on proper menstrual health and management. As a result of a lack of education and inability to access menstrual products, girls resort to dangerous substitutes, such as rags, wool and paper, that can lead to both short and long-term negative health consequences. In 2019, the World Bank noted that just 27% of people in sub-Saharan Africa had access to basic forms of sanitation, a factor that exacerbates difficulties in maintaining menstrual hygiene. Furthermore, due to a lack of access to WASH facilities, girls and women in sub-Saharan Africa are more susceptible to reproductive diseases.
Education is a fundamental right and a way out of poverty, yet, according to UNESCO, in 2014, due to period poverty, 10% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa missed school while menstruating. Furthermore, some girls lose 20% of their education, increasing the chances of girls dropping out of school entirely. The Botswana parliament’s motion for free period products to be available in schools highlights the importance of fighting period poverty to move closer to ending global poverty.
Due to menstrual taboos and stigmas, girls feel ashamed of their periods and miss school because of misinformation. When girls miss out on school, entire communities area are affected as the girl loses the ability to better the local area through the knowledge and skills gained through education. In Botswana, “religious beliefs, cultural practices and social myths” make discussing menstruation with adults difficult for young girls. As a result, girls do not know how to properly manage their menstruation. When girls do not feel shame about a natural biological process such as menstruation, these girls are empowered socially, physically, and ultimately, economically.
The Economics of Period Poverty
Sub-Saharan Africa has an extreme poverty rate of about 40% without much change from 1990 to 2018. In Botswana specifically, according to the World Bank, the poverty rate reached 60% by April 2021 due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. These figures highlight the financial struggle of a vast amount of regional populations, a situation that makes purchasing period products understandably difficult. Period poverty in Botswana is partially a consequence of the high volume of impoverished residents that cannot afford basic necessities.
The Botswana government is combating period poverty in Botswana with nationwide legal policies to provide all girls, both in public and private school institutions, with free period products. Through programs and legislation that allows open conversations and access to sanitary products, girls in Botswana are one step closer to breaking free from cycles of poverty.
– Ann Shick