Of the 127 million people in Mexico, 44% or 56 million live below the poverty line. Poverty often means a lack of shelter and food and not having the necessary resources to manage monthly menstruation. Without proper sanitation to manage menstruation, girls miss school and women miss work, along with other opportunities to overcome poverty. Period poverty in Mexico needs to be addressed to ensure that women and girls have the opportunity to progress in their lives.
About Period Poverty
Period poverty is the umbrella term for lack of access to sanitary products or the infrastructure to clean oneself during menstruation due to this economic, social and political issue. According to Global Citizen, “When people can’t manage their periods safely and with dignity, they miss out on school, [work] and opportunities to overcome poverty.” Menstrual poverty is an issue that COVID-19 exacerbated. An additional 3.8 million people in Mexico fell into poverty between 2018 and 2021 due, in part, to the pandemic. This rise in poverty is likely to have increased menstrual poverty.
Period Poverty in Mexico Schools
The lower chamber in Mexico approved a law in March 2021 to make female sanitary products, such as tampons, pads and menstrual cups, free in schools. The law still requires the Mexican Senate’s approval. If passed, the intention is to reinforce menstrual education to fight misinformation and bullying targeting menstruating girls.
There remains a lack of sexual and reproductive education, taboos about menstruation and the absence of the sanitary infrastructure for girls to maintain menstrual hygiene practices and dispose of sanitary products, adding to the obstacles around period poverty in Mexico. For women and girls, menstrual poverty perpetuates more poverty. Without menstrual products, water or pain medication, girls may miss school rather than risk humiliation at school.
Mental Health and Period Poverty
Beyond the lack of available menstrual products, missing school, work and other opportunities, girls who live with period poverty may also experience poor mental health. A limited ability to obtain menstrual products due to poverty can lead to anxiety, depression and feelings of embarrassment.
Period, a global nonprofit, and Thinx, a company that sells period underwear, recently implemented a study showing that two-thirds of teen girls experience stress due to limited menstrual supplies, along with feelings of shame and self-consciousness. In fact, UNICEF reports that half of school-aged girls would rather miss school than risk embarrassment of stained clothing from their periods. The fact that girls miss school has links to poverty, domestic violence, health complications and child marriage.
Menstrual products are necessary items that are often unattainable for girls and women facing poverty. This is partly due to the Value Added Tax (VAT) in Mexico that includes a 16% tax on sanitary pads and tampons and all items related to the management of menstruation.
In September 2020, Deputy of Movimiento Ciudadano Martha Tagle approached the Chamber of Deputies in Mexico with a proposal to eliminate VAT on sanitary products. Congress threw the proposal out after a vote with 218 voicing disapproval, 185 votes of approval and 11 abstaining from the vote. Congress stated that eliminating the VAT was not possible during the health crisis of the pandemic. However, groups such as Movimiento Cuidadano are making strides to reduce the cost of menstrual products.
Menstruación Digna Law
While Mexico is yet to remove the tax successfully, one state has made some headway. On March 3, 2021, Michoacán, Mexico, located in Western Mexico along the Pacific coastline and the ninth largest state in Mexico, passed the Menstruación Digna Law that incorporates menstrual education into health education in schools. Advocacy groups see this as a step forward for those experiencing menstrual poverty in Mexico and another positive move toward making sanitary products and menstrual education accessible to all girls and women in Mexico.
Impacts of Childhood Marriage on Period Poverty in Mexico
UNICEF has reported that girls who miss school or do not receive an education are more at risk of entering child marriage, experience pregnancy, malnourishment and domestic violence. Marriage as a child and teen pregnancies can exacerbate the cycle of poverty. Without powerful remedial measures, the World Bank estimates that the learning loss that has already occurred is going to cost girls in Mexico an average of 8% of their future income.
According to the World Bank, ending childhood marriage and educating girls can be powerful agents of socioeconomic change. Upon completion of school, girls are less likely to experience child marriage, face domestic abuse and suffer from long-term health complications. As a result, females who have education are more likely to have fewer and healthier children. These children then, in turn, are more likely to obtain an education and pull themselves out of poverty, thereby breaking the cycle of poverty. Educating girls around the world and in Mexico could shift the socioeconomic status and infrastructure of countries.
Ban on Plastic Applicators
In January 2021, a ban on plastic applicators in Mexico further exacerbated the issue of period poverty for girls and women. With a lack of access to tampons, women and girls are more at risk of missing more school. Experts have said that the ban could increase period poverty in a country where 43% of the population lives under the poverty line. For those in the lowest income level in Mexico, menstrual health accounts for up to 5% of their monthly expenses. A significant group of women in Mexico City also say that they cannot purchase tampons on e-commerce sites.
Eradicating period poverty in Mexico will support the world effort to end poverty by 2030. As Global Citizen states, “The world must act to end period poverty and guarantee clean water and sanitation for all by 2030. Promoting menstrual equity is key to supporting women and young girls.”
Advocating to end period poverty in Mexico is advantageous. Research shows that when girls receive education, gross domestic product (GDP) grows. A one percentage point increase in female education raises the average GDP by 0.3 percentage points and raises annual GDP growth rates by 0.2 percentage points.
– Sarah Mackay