Period Poverty: Who Does It Affect?

At the present time, approximately 500 million people find themselves in period poverty. Defined as the lack of accessibility to menstrual products, period poverty may come in the form of expensive sanitary supplies and unhygienic spaces for individuals to manage their menstruation.

What Causes Period Poverty?

As the name suggests, period poverty is oftentimes caused by financial constraints that leave individuals unable to afford sanitary products. A lack of education on the issue also contributes to the perpetuation of period poverty. Today, more than a quarter of the global population is of “menstruating age,” with 4-5% of them “menstruating on any given day.” Despite the prominence of menstruation, it is often shrouded in stigma in many cultures. Menstruation is often seen as unclean and approached with disgust, despite being a normal bodily process. As a result, people who menstruate are made to feel ashamed of having periods, thereby limiting the spaces where people can have a safe and open dialogue regarding menstruation. In instances when periods are discussed, they may not be inclusive enough and end up alienating some groups such as transgender people.

Who is the Most Affected by Period Poverty?

Those who live in less developed countries, such as in the Global South, are likelier to experience period poverty. They may have limited access to clean and private spaces where they can manage their menstruation. For instance, toilets may not have locks or soap and clean water for better hygiene practices. In other cases, the availability of flushing toilets is scarce, forcing individuals to use open “pit latrines” instead, therefore posing a challenge to menstruating individuals.

The issue of period poverty, however, does not only affect people from less privileged backgrounds. In the United Kingdom, for example, a survey indicated that 42% of girls had to use “makeshift products such as toilet paper, socks, and newspaper” because they could not afford proper sanitary products

The poor accessibility of period products has further implications on individuals’ well-being. For instance, it can force them to take days off from school and work. In fact, a report found that 137,000 children in the UK were absent from school because of their period, whilst 73% of women in a Bangladesh factory had to miss work. When young individuals miss out on school, this ultimately affects their “economic potential over [their] life course,” indicating the lifelong repercussions of period poverty. 

Not only does period poverty impact individuals’ economic potential but their health as well. Instead of using the proper sanitary products, people who menstruate may resort to using alternatives like “rags, paper towels, and reused pads.” Consequently, this leads to infections and skin irritation that puts their health at risk. The lack of access to toilets may also force individuals to “eat and drink less.” Aside from physical health, period poverty also exacerbates mental health deterioration. A study found that amongst women who experienced period poverty, an overwhelming 68.1% had symptoms of depression, a rate greater than those who never encountered period poverty. Evidently, this issue poses an obstacle to women’s empowerment and overall gender equality.

How Can Period Poverty Be Addressed?

To alleviate period poverty, it is important to ensure that education is accurate and accessible, especially in less privileged communities. Doing so can help destigmatize conversations about periods and increase awareness of better hygiene practices whilst promoting educational attainment. 

The private sector can also play a role in reducing period poverty. Businesses, for example, can provide hygienic and inclusive spaces, along with sanitary products, to help accommodate the menstrual needs of their employees.

At the state level, governments should remove taxes on menstrual products. Scotland, in fact, pioneered this move by becoming the first country to provide menstrual products free of charge. In Thailand, on the contrary, there was a recent attempt to impose a 30% sales tax on sanitary products, resulting in widespread outrage. Removing these taxes will eliminate one barrier to the accessibility of necessary menstrual goods. It further enables people who menstruate to continue working and going to school, thus promoting their empowerment

There are several challenges that lie ahead when it comes to ending period poverty. With the help of education and improved government policies, we can move one step closer to ensuring greater gender equality and empowering those who menstruate.

Isabelle Amurao


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