Globally, approximately 500 million individuals encounter challenges in accessing necessary care and resources during menstruation. To put it into perspective, this figure is roughly five times the population of Egypt. Similar to many developing nations, Egypt experiences a disproportionate impact of period poverty on its impoverished population, resulting in detrimental effects on health, equality and sustainability.
The Complex Causes of Period Poverty in Egypt
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reports that 34% of Egyptian girls surveyed did not know what menstruation was before starting their period. Of these, 74% were “shocked, afraid or cried” during their first menstruation.
Stigmatization of periods leads to inadequate education and unreliable information: people who menstruate are often ashamed or afraid to ask questions, seek care or leave home on their period. Many young people default to unhygienic practices like not bathing during menstruation, and this can result in infection and serious illness.
Those in poverty often cannot afford sanitary resources, medication or care during their period. Many girls from impoverished families miss school while menstruating. Skipping up to a week of school every month frequently forces them to drop out, putting them at risk in a country where 35.6% of people with no formal education live in poverty.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the poor struggled to attain the appropriate resources, education and care during menstruation. Many suppliers stopped serving hard-to-reach, remote areas and period poverty-focused initiatives decreased, according to Frontiers in Global Health. Increasing economic strain led many households to deprioritize menstrual health.
Working to End Period Poverty
The 2019 World Cup winners, the Enactus Cairo University student collective, present one possible solution to period poverty in Egypt: Rosie. Rosie is a social enterprise providing environmentally friendly, hygienic, affordable sanitary pads to rural Egyptian communities.
In addition to distributing their product, Rosie’s founders taught women in impoverished communities how to make the pads themselves, boosting their income and making them active participants in eliminating period poverty. To date, Enactus estimates that Rosie has positively impacted 6,372 people across its initiatives.
Shark and Shrimp took a different route. In 2019, this Cairo-based digital marketing agency became the first company in Egypt to offer all female employees one paid day of leave per month for their period. The move was controversial, as talk of periods is rarely so public. Still, it has received praise inside and outside Egypt’s borders as an important step in removing the stigma around menstruation.
Moving Forward with Hope
Menstrual health contributes to population health, sustainable development, gender equality and human rights – and people are starting to notice. Increasing numbers of women and communities in Egypt are combatting period poverty in innovative and sustainable ways. At the same time, organizations like Shark and Shrimp are taking the lead in destigmatizing menstruation once and for all. Egypt may have much further to go, but there is cause for optimism yet.
– Faye Crawford