Posts

period poverty
Period poverty is an umbrella term that refers to the inaccessibility of feminine hygiene products, education, washing facilities and waste management, especially for menstruators with low incomes. Menstruators who lack the education or access to resources for safe period management often resort to risky methods such as using rags and clothing, which can lead to bacterial infections that can cause further physical health risks.

Today, there are over 800 million women and girls that have periods every day, yet they still face difficulties to properly manage their menstruation. According to UNICEF, 2.3 billion people across the globe live without basic sanitation services in developing countries. Meanwhile, 73% of people lack access to proper handwashing facilities at home.

COVID-19 affects menstrual health and hygiene by exacerbating pre-existing inequalities regarding period poverty worldwide.

COVID-19 and Period Poverty

As stated by Rose Caldwell, chief executive of Plan International U.K., “the virus is making the situation worse. We already know that the coronavirus outbreak is having a devastating impact on family finances all over the world, but now we see that girls and women are also facing widespread shortages and price hikes on period products, with the result that many are being forced to make do with whatever they can find to manage their period.”

The disruption of global supply chains and ceased trading of smaller-scale private sector enterprises has led to product shortages. This shortage is the primary issue affecting women’s access to safe sanitary products. The price of sanitary products has also increased during the pandemic. It is extremely hard for families to afford these products since the pandemic has also affected household incomes.

“As most shops have run out, I sometimes have to substitute in different ways instead,” said a teenage girl from the Solomon Islands.

“Prices went up as soon as there was a confirmed case of COVID19 in Fiji. Sometimes I have to forgo buying hygiene products as money will have to be used on food and bills,” said a young woman in Fiji.

Stigmatization of Menstruation

Most of the world stigmatizes menstruation. Social stigmas and taboos about menstruation is another key factor that prevents women and girls from properly managing their periods. In Nepal, people perceive menstruating women as impure. Their community expels them to huts for the duration of their cycles. In Uganda, non-governmental agency WoMena showed that many girls skip school when they are on their periods. The primary reason: to avoid teasing from classmates.

Since the rise of COVID-19, some people have associated menstruation as a sign of illness. Although having periods is normal and healthy, there are myths stating that menstruation is a symptom of the coronavirus and that menstruators have a higher chance of infecting others. These myths are badly affecting period poverty by increasing the stigma of menstruation. The negative perceptions of menstruation, such that it is a symptom of an illness and that it should be something to hide from others, should change in order to stop period poverty.

A young woman from the Solomon Islands said “Sometimes [I feel shame]. Especially when I am not able to clean myself during water cuts. I feel embarrassed to walk around my family.”

Organizations Making a Difference

I Support The Girls is an organization that collects and distributes bras and menstruation products to people who need them around the globe. The organization mentioned that it has seen a 35% increase in requests for menstrual products, bras and underwear since the outbreak of the virus. In response, the organization collected and distributed over 2,000,000 products, partnered up with businesses to distribute surplus inventory, and more.

Plan International U.K. is another organization that fights period poverty; it distributes menstrual hygiene kits to support women and girls disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Alison Choi
Photo: Unsplash

Bahamian Charities Combating COVID-19Last year, Hurricane Dorian brought massive destruction to The Bahamas. The damage was unlike anything the islands had ever witnessed before, leaving around 70,000 Bahamians homeless. Although much of the Bahamian infrastructure is leveled, resilient islanders were quick to begin reestablishing their livelihoods. Now the outbreak of COVID-19 has brought the world to a standstill, slicing through The Bahamas’ tourism economic sectors. Paired with the global shortage on toiletries and PPE, the citizens of these popular vacation islands are withstanding two pandemics; fortunately, however, local charities have stepped in a major way. Here are three Bahamian charities providing life-saving aid through these times of struggle.

3 Bahamian Charities Combating COVID-19

  1. The Dignified Project: People living in poverty around the world already struggled to obtain supplies and health services. Now that stores and public transports are closed due to natural disasters and the virus, combined with rising prices and economic uncertainty, the impoverished are facing even greater hurdles. But imagine a massive shortage of essential items that help manage the natural disposition of the body. No, not toilet paper. Think more on the lines of tampons. It’s called period poverty. One major, yet underrated stifle for the economic development of menstruating women is the lack of access to hygiene products that help manage menstrual health. The Dignified Project is a nonprofit organization that provides young girls with feminine hygiene products. Not only do they provide these essential items for free, but they also educate young girls in The Bahamas on building confidence, demonstrating body positivity and increasing awareness of health and “social concerns related to their biological development.” According to its Instagram page, The Dignified Project offers two kits: bras, underwear and other essential undergarments; soap and tampons or pads. Phillipa Dean, the initiative’s founder, reported that the organization has been distributing products more frequently due to heightened demand from COVID-19, which first ravaged the country on March 15.
  2. The Bahamas Light Industries Development Council (BLIDC): The Bahamas Light Industries Development Council (BLIDC) is an organization formed by and for Bahamian manufacturers and producers. The organization’s aim is to “promote and expand, and to preserve and protect light industries operating in the Bahamas.” In the past, members of the BLIDC, alongside other companies like bakeries and breweries, have rendered services to non-governmental organizations by aiding struggling households and communities. Although businesses like BLIDC are not fully performing manufacturing functions, these Bahamian charities still ensure access to food and beverages. Upon hearing about the recent shortage grits, a prominent food staple in Nassau, the BLIDC reached out to island partners in search of resources. In addition to supporting local businesses, the BLIDC donated what was harvested to the Bahamas Feeding Network.
  3. Hands for Hunger: Volunteer drivers are delivering food packages to Bahamians in need. According to its website, Hands for Hunger has delivered more than 150,000 pounds of food to 40 agencies since the dawn of COVID-19 in March including senior living homes, children’s homes and churches. As a result of this organization’s efforts, more than 2,100 Bahamians are being assisted bi-weekly with approximately 400 families having received food assistance over a three-month period.

Between natural disasters, a pandemic and pre-existing struggles with poverty, the Bahamas undoubtedly have several unique challenges left to work through. However, with continued support from passionate Bahamian charities, there is promise for the nation to repair itself in the near future.

– Katrina Robinson
Photo: Flickr


New Zealand, a Pacific island country known for its beautiful waters and unique wildlife, is more than just a tropical paradise. By a recent estimate, New Zealand has the 48th highest GDP per capita in the world. Plus, the average New Zealander leaves school when they are between 18 and 19 years old, whereas in many other countries children leave school before they reach the age of 12. New Zealand also puts a relatively high proportion (9%) of the overall government budget toward healthcare.

Though New Zealand is by no means an impoverished country, thousands of women still suffer from a lack of access to sanitary products. An estimated 95,000 young girls in New Zealand don’t go to school during their period because they don’t have access to the necessary sanitary products. However, the government is currently working to move closer toward New Zealand’s solution to period poverty.

New Zealand’s Sanitary Product Problem

A lack of access to safe sanitary products during menstruation is defined as period poverty. Studies have shown that across the globe, one in four women struggle to purchase the products necessary to deal with their menstruation. When women don’t have access to tampons and pads, it can lead to devastating situations. Some women are unable to work or leave the house, or are even shamed for what their bodies are going through. This makes education, employment and other aspects of life very difficult for women — for about a week every month.

In New Zealand, close to 12% of school-age girls between the ages of 12 and 18 have difficulty or are unable to purchase sanitary products. More than that, close to 10% of girls reported that they had skipped school because they didn’t have access to tampons or pads.

The Plan

The number of school-age girls who were missing out on educational opportunities due to their menstrual cycle led New Zealand’s prime minister to take steps towards eradicating period poverty. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared that period products were not a luxury but in fact a necessity for female students. In light of this, New Zealand’s government is using NZ$2.6 million to help relieve period poverty. Eventually, New Zealand hopes to eradicate period poverty, but funds will first go toward making sanitary products free for girls in 15 New Zealand schools.

New Zealand’s Future

The hope for this government initiative is that it will lead to having free sanitary products in all state schools by 2021. While this would be a huge step toward New Zealand’s solution to period poverty, there is still a long way to go. Dignity, a local organization that focuses on women’s rights and access to sanitary products, has voiced its appreciation and support for the government’s efforts to support women’s access to menstrual products.

However, Dignity also pointed out that there is still work to be done. Women throughout the country need access to sanitary products, not just girls in primary and secondary schools. Moreover, Arden’s period poverty initiative is just one part of a plan that aims to halve childhood poverty in the next 10 years. While it may not address every aspect of period poverty or childhood poverty, New Zealand’s plan is moving the country one step closer toward eliminating period poverty.

Lucia Kenig-Ziesler
Photo: Flickr

bathrooms and girls’ education in AfricaIn the developed world, private bathroom stalls and toilets are largely taken for granted, especially within schools. The issues of period poverty and girls’ education in Africa do not seem like topics that would be intertwined. However, they are in fact completely dependent on one another. Most period poverty efforts focus on access to sanitary products. While this is an incredibly important component, bathrooms within schools are just as important. Without a safe space to change them, the work of providing reusable sanitary napkins cannot work. These two factors have to work together. Here are facts to know about the connection between bathrooms and girls’ education in Africa.

What is Social Infrastructure and Why Is It Important?

Social infrastructure refers to facilities that include education, health and youth services that promote a high quality lifestyle. It is created with the public good in mind, and the intent to provide better outcomes for peoples’ livelihoods. It impacts the connection between bathrooms and girls’ education in Africa directly. Buildings with a socially-minded design make children, and especially girls, feel safe, included and acknowledged. It will keep them coming back to those places. 

Research explains the positive impact of infrastructure on communities in Africa to the intersectional issue of girls’ education. It shows how infrastructure is more than just buildings and highways. Creating a physical space where girls feel safe is crucial to their personal and educational development. Focusing on infrastructure has been proven to create a more equitable society, especially within rural communities. This is due to the lack of accessibility to resources that are more likely present within urban areas. 

The Link Between Menstrual Stigma and Girls’ Education

Girls’ education in Africa faces many obstacles. This is largely due to gender stereotypes that are at the root of unsafe learning environments. Twenty-three percent of girls of primary school age are not in school, and that number jumps to 36% as they get older and enter secondary school. Menstruation is a factor in the connection between bathrooms and girls’ education in Africa. When girls begin to menstruate, they are faced with many barriers. These may include temporary social ostracization, missed school days and sexual violence by peers. 

One in ten girls misses 20% of school days because they cannot attend during their menstrual cycle. This largely due to the fact that – if they have access to sanitary products – they do not have a place to change them once at school. This discourages many girls from attending in the first place, and too many missed days ultimately leads to higher drop out rates because they cannot end up falling behind. 

Why Toilets?

Only 57% of primary schools within the world’s least developed countries have single-sex bathrooms. The good news is that countries such as Djibouti, Gambia, Ghana, Morocco and Mozambique have single-sex bathrooms in 80% of their primary schools. However, the work is far from complete given that some countries such as Eritrea only have these facilities in 27% of schools, and the lowest being only 9% in Senegal

The majority of sexual assault and rape incidents happen in school bathrooms because there is only one facility for all students with very little to no privacy. So along with embarrassment regarding using the restroom and changing their sanitary pads in front of male students, they feel incredibly unsafe walking into the bathroom. When girls do not have to worry about their hygiene and safety at school, they will be more likely to continue attending. Creating a safe environment is key to ensuring girls attend and stay in school. This can help break the cycle of gender disparity in education.  

Organizations Doing the Work

The state of girls’ education in Africa is being greatly improved by organizations that are funding initiatives and creating them. Taking notice of the connection between bathrooms and girls’ education in Africa can greatly aid these girls’ futures. The Global Partnership for Education partners with national governments to create “girl-friendly” sanitation facilities in order to improve girls’ education in Africa. Its grants to countries like Guinea and Cameroon enabled the building of separate bathrooms and water stations within schools. 

Programs like FRESH and WaterAid are coming together to ensure the creation of safe and healthy physical spaces for girls to learn. They are developing infrastructure plans that follow UNICEF and WHO guidelines. WaterAid established a list of components that should be a part of girl-friendly infrastructure. These include single-sex bathrooms with locks and privacy walls and any mechanism that can work as a disposal place for sanitary products. The availability of clean water within the bathroom is included in order to clean reusable sanitary napkins. It also includes a mirror (even if it is broken) so girls are able to check for any spots or stains before returning to the classroom. 

Why Should We Care?

The connection between bathrooms and girls’ education in Africa is a topic that deserves abundant attention. Everyone benefits from educated girls. When half of the world’s population is being excluded from equal educational opportunities it creates a greater human capital issue. The skills and talents of these girls might never be seen simply because they are unable to gain any upward mobility due to a lack of education. So on the next World Toilet Day, November 19, remember how something as simple as a private bathroom stall can make a huge difference in the life of a young, African girl. 

Stephanie Russo
Photo: Flickr

fighting period povertyFly and Flo are two revolutionary products that fight period poverty and help menstruators across the globe manage their monthly periods. The burden of a person’s menstrual cycle can vary dramatically depending on their location. Many experience what is known as period poverty, which is when people do not have the resources or social conditions “to manage their periods with dignity.” Period poverty is normally widespread in specific regions or countries due to a lack of access to sanitary products and intense stigmas surrounding menstruation.

Roughly 12.8 percent of the menstruating population lives in poverty. These extreme financial challenges leave many unable to afford conventional sanitary products, causing them to turn to less safe alternatives such as newspapers, plastics bags, and socks to manage their monthly periods.

In addition to the health concerns, period poverty also results in people being discriminated against and ostracized during their menstrual cycle. In countries like Venezuela, for example, members of the household require menstruators to sleep in huts during their periods. This is not an uncommon practice around the world.

Period poverty does not only affect people during menstruation; it can have long-term negative effects. It causes severe implications for an individual’s education and career. In Kenya, for example, people miss 20 percent of the school year due to menstruation. Luckily, Fly and Flo are working to fight period poverty around the world.

Fly

In India, 70 percent of reproductive diseases are a result of unhygienic menstrual care. Understanding this and the high cost of sanitary products in India, Arunachalam Muruganantham set out on a mission to create a cheap sanitary pad in hopes of making India a “100 percent napkin using country” compared to a level of less than 10 percent at the time.

After four and a half years of research, Muruganantham created a low-cost, four-step method to make sanitary pads. Muruganantham then brought that method and machinery to over 1,300 villages in India so that women can produce and sell cheap sanitary napkins to their community. The success of the product is documented in the 2019 Netflix documentary Period. End of Sentence., which tells the story of women in Kathikhera, India, who use Muruganantham’s method to make pads for their village.

In addition to bringing cheap pads to Khathikhera, this innovation has empowered the women of the village to create their own brand of sanitary napkins known as “Fly.” The company creates over 600 pads every day, bringing stable jobs to women in the village. The product is also slowly accomplishing Muruganantham’s original goal, as sanitary napkin usage in Khathikhera has climbed to 70 percent.

The success of Fly has inspired Muruganantham to spread his product to countries affected by period poverty across the globe, such as Kenya, Nigeria, and the Philippines.

Flo

While affordable sanitary napkins are becoming increasingly more available, 90 percent of the menstruating population still use reusable pads. People can use reusable pads safely; however, due to stigmas, many people struggle to properly disinfect their pads during menstruation, a lack of hygiene which can lead to infection. To combat this issue, a group of students at the Art Center College of Design created Flo: a kit that allows people to wash, dry thoroughly and store sanitary napkins during menstruation. 

The device is made up of “two bowls, a basket, and string, and uses half the water and detergent than a standard hand washing method requires.” After washing the pads, they can be spun inside the basket to wring out excess water and reduce the drying time. Flo then converts into a drying rack for the pads to hang outside. In addition to being a transportable washer-dryer, Flo also serves as discrete storage for dirty and clean pads. 

The tool kit costs $3, making it an accessible, long term solution for those who struggle with period poverty. The inexpensive and hidden nature of Flo helps to reduce some of the burdens for those affected by menstrual stigmas by providing a sense of privacy and ensuring sanitation during monthly periods. The creators of Flo are still finalizing the marketing and sale strategies for the product, however, the future for Flo looks bright as it has already won several awards including an International Design Excellence Award. As the product continues to work on getting itself off the ground, its creators encourage people to build their own Flo models using any available resources and the product design of the group’s website

The Future of Period Poverty

As the world works to fight period poverty, innovations like Fly and Flo bring hope to menstruating people across the globe. With these products, menstruation no longer inhibits people from attending school or jobs out of fear of embarrassment or inconvenience. Moreover, as these products become cheaper, access to adequate period care will someday hopefully be universal.

Mary Kate Langan

Photo: Wikimedia

young advocates

Today, some of the most innovative, forward-thinking change-makers happen to be under the age of 18. Keep reading to learn more about these three top young advocates who are doing their part to address global issues from poverty to gender equality and education.

3 Young Advocates Who are Changing the World

  1. Zuriel Oduwole
    Since the age of 10, Zuriel Oduwole has been using her voice to spread awareness about the importance of educating young girls in developing countries. Now 17 years old, Oduwole has made a difference in girls’ education and gender issues in Africa by meeting with and interviewing important political figures like presidents, prime ministers and first ladies. To date, Oduwole has spoken in 14 countries to address the importance of educating young girls in developing countries, including Ethiopia, South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania and Nigeria. “They need an education so they can have good jobs when they get older,” Oduwole said in a 2013 interview with Forbes. “Especially the girl child. I am really hoping that with the interviews I do with presidents, they would see that an African girl child like me is doing things that girls in their countries can do also.”
  2. Yash Gupta
    After breaking his glasses as a high school freshman, Yash Gupta realized how much seeing affects education. He did some research and found out that millions of children do not have access to prescription lenses that would help them to excel in their studies. Gupta then founded Sight Learning, a nonprofit organization that collects and distributes eyeglasses to children in Mexico, Honduras, Haiti and India.

  3. Amika George
    At the age of 18, Amika George led a protest outside of former U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s home to convince policymakers to end “period poverty.” Period poverty is the unavailability of feminine sanitary products for girls who cannot afford them. Girls who can’t afford these products are often left to use rags or wads of tissue, which not only raises health concerns but also keeps girls from their education. In order to combat this issue, George created a petition with the goal for schools to provide feminine products to girls who receive a free or reduced lunch. As of now, George has mobilized over 200,000 signatures and helped catapult the conversation of period poverty at the political level in the U.K.

These three world-changing children prove that age does not matter when it comes to making a difference in the world.

Juliette Lopez
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty
With pertinent issues like gender-based violence and discrimination coming to the forefront, period poverty is becoming a key aspect of fighting gender inequality globally. Period poverty, another key facet that one can classify as the feminization of poverty, is the inaccessibility and lack of adequate menstrual hygiene products and supplies for women and girls.

The Status Quo of Period Poverty

Even though period poverty is a significant issue to tackle, unlike other women’s issues and struggles, the stigma attached to period and menstruation remains a rather strong barrier to remediating the problem. In May 2018, the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) reported on the menstrual stigma and taboo in East and Southern Africa, highlighting impacts like women’s health risks and human rights violations.

Among developing countries, in particular, the stigma against menstruation deeply entrenches in culture and religion as the taboo regarding periods has been a long-term stigma for many years. The patriarchal dominance that continues to exist among communities across the world is aggravating the problem further.

For example, countries like Nepal still practice Chhaupadi, which is a regressive yet common practice where women must confine themselves to a specific part of the house during their menstrual cycle. Furthermore, over 60 percent of teachers in Sri Lanka perceived menstrual blood as impure in some way. Women and girls in sub-Saharan African countries also face the impacts of this issue.

Impacts on Education

Most importantly, period poverty can be a major social impediment to girl’s education as young girls from poorer social-economic backgrounds often miss a lot of school as they face difficulties in coping with their cycle.

According to a 2014 study conducted by UNESCO, one in every 10 girls face menstrual problems and have to miss out on school. Often women and girls use mud, leaves, paper and animal skins to stem menstrual flow as resources are often scarce. In countries like Sri Lanka, pads and other sanitary products often receive a heavy tax, despite the fact that the taxation on menstrual products has decreased to around 63 percent in recent years.

Current Progress and Initiatives

Yet, more recently, in a revolutionary move, India’s Supreme Court was proud to declare a renouncement of the ban on menstruating women, citing not only its constitutional immorality but also the religious and social constraints it imposes on women. The announcement stated that the state had the duty to protect and safeguard the rights and freedoms of women.

Additionally, Alstons Marketing Company Limited (AMCO) recently embarked on the End Poverty Initiative to distribute over 115,000 pads to girls in Trinidad and Tobago. The Kenyan government is offering assistance to girls by subsiding menstrual hygiene products and removing the imposition of the VAT (Value Added Tax).

The U.K. has additionally launched a global fund to eliminate period poverty by the year 2050. The government is pledging over 2 million pounds to aid international organizations and assist in other global initiatives to tackle the stigma associated with menstruation and the period taboo.

As advocacy and awareness-building remain pivotal, May 28 is now Menstrual Hygiene Day. Globally, organizations like Period Equity are helping to bridge the gaps and make menstrual hygiene and care more affordable.

Community-based initiatives and grassroots activities may be a long-term solution to the problem. The provision of WASH services is also essential as it ensures greater menstrual hygiene and will eliminate health risks among communities by monitoring waste management systems and building functional toilets.

Preventing the debilitation of period poverty is of paramount importance for future social development and progress to improve the overall status of women. It will help solve other associated issues like girl’s education, mobility and health care and ensure greater participation of women in the economy and the workforce.

– Shivani Ekkanath
Photo: Flickr

Period PovertyWhen 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
Photo: Flickr

Women's Health in IndiaOn Feb. 9, 2018, the Bollywood movie “Padman” was released to the largest film market in the world. “Padman” is exactly what it sounds like: a film about a man who creates pads. The Bollywood film chronicles the true story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, India’s pioneer of a revolutionary method of producing cost-effective sanitary pads for women and girls across the country.

The film is more than just a story about someone with a good idea; it is also challenging the stigma that surrounds menstruation and women’s health in India. “Period Poverty” is a global phenomenon that describes a woman’s inability to buy proper feminine hygiene products. In India in particular, the effects of period poverty hinder many girls’ abilities to stay in school. In India, one in four girls miss one day or more of school due to menstruation.

In lower and middle income countries, poor sanitation facilities are one thing that keep girls from attending school while on their period. Many schools in lower income countries also do not have the puberty education necessary to educate girls about menstruation. A recent study found that 71 percent of girls in India have no knowledge about menstruation prior to their first period.

Most cultures around the world also have a major stigma surrounding menstruation. In India in particular, a lot of taboo surrounds the topic of periods and women’s health in general. Restrictions for women on their period include not being able to enter religious shrines or come into contact with food, further keeping girls from school. Many girls are nervous about asking for help in the event of stained clothing due to improper feminine hygiene care.

Another thing keeping women from proper feminine hygiene care is cost. Until recently, 70 percent of Indian women could not afford to buy pads for their family. Instead, families resorted to using and reusing rags which quickly become unsanitary as breeding grounds for disease. In rural areas, materials other than rags were often used like sawdust or ash.

There are currently many NGOs operating around the world with the goal of creating affordable solutions for women suffering from period poverty. Many of these organizations are dedicated to solving issues of women’s health in India.

Innovator Arunachalam Muruganantham has created a machine that makes sanitary pads that are sold mostly to NGOs along with women’s self-help groups. The machine comes in two different types, a manual version and a semi-automated version. Each machine can make 200 to 250 pads a day and is designed to be user-friendly for women living in rural areas.

The pads sell for about 2.5 rupees, almost half of what it would be to buy them commercially. This system not only provides proper sanitary products for women, but also creates jobs for women living in rural areas as they learn how to use and operate the machine. Muruganatham has expanded his efforts well beyond India and is now working in 106 countries around the world.

An organization created in 2008 called Days for Girls is dedicated to improving women’s health around the world. The organization aims to provide girls with invaluable health education and provide its recipients with a Days for Girls kit. Each kit contains sanitary napkins, washcloths, soap, a menstrual chart and underwear. This is just one example of the many organizations fighting to end the stigma surrounding periods.

India is the largest film market in the world, with 2.2 billion movie tickets sold in 2016. Hopefully, the recent film, “Padman,” will reach a wide variety of audiences and bring more attention to issue of women’s health in India.

– Sonja Flancher

Photo: Flickr

Period PovertyOftentimes when we think of poverty, food insecurity and homelessness come to mind. What we don’t necessarily think about is the inability to afford toiletries and items such as tampons and pads – and, the reality is, people are often too ashamed or embarrassed to bring up the topic of menstrual cycles. Forty million women and girls around the world are affected by period poverty, and the silence must come to an end. Here are five facts about period poverty that are important to talk about:

  1. A year’s supply of sanitary products in the United States costs more than $70. In the U.K., there is a five percent tax on period products – in total, sanitary products cost over 5,000 pounds in a lifetime.
  2. Lack of affordability and information have led many young women to use only one tampon per day or one pad for multiple days. When proper products are not available or affordable, women are often forced to use alternatives such as socks, dishrags and newspapers during their cycles.
  3. Lack of menstrual hygiene can lead to very serious health risks such as Toxic Shock Syndrome, a life-threatening illness. In Bangladesh, India and many other countries, infections and cervical cancer are also results of poor hygiene.
  4. Many girls from low-income families around the world are skipping school because they cannot afford tampons or pads. Missing school during menstrual cycles has been a well-known pattern in developing countries, like Kenya, for years. Now, the reality is setting in that this is a trend for low-income girls everywhere, including the Western world.
  5. The stigma surrounding periods has been shown to directly affect a girl’s potential to succeed. If a girl misses school every time she has her period, she is set 145 days behind her fellow male students. Even then, most girls in the developing world choose to drop out of school altogether rather than face the embarrassment and shame of being unprepared for their periods.

Unfortunately, many people fail to recognize the effects that period poverty have on young women and girls. In times of uncertainty, sanitary needs come secondary, or even tertiary, to finding food and shelter. While this is understandable, a few organizations such as Freedom4Girls and Bloody Good Period, and many others, are fighting back against period poverty.

One of the biggest defenses against period poverty is to start a conversation and stop the stigma.

Madeline Boeding

Photo: Flickr