Menstruating women, regardless of their location, experience challenges when dealing with their period, said Dani Barrington, Emily Wilson, and Hazel Barrett of The Conversation, a not-for-profit media outlet. Such challenges include a lack of products, disposal facilities, or restrooms. Women on their periods can also face bullying of being restricted from certain locations or activities.
In high-income countries, this issue is commonly known as “period poverty” while it is referred to as “poor menstrual hygiene management” in low-middle income countries. This shows that most of the world’s population are greatly disadvantaged just for menstruating.
Women and Girls Struggle to Access to Affordable Period Products
In a study commission by feminine hygiene firm Thinx and leading menstrual movement Period, 20% of teens struggled to afford menstrual products or were unable to purchase them at all, cited Nadya Okamoto and Maria Molland of American business news channel CNN Business. 61% of teens wore a tampon or a pad for more than four hours because they did not have access to period products, placing them at risk of infection and TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome).
84% have either missed class time or know someone who missed class time because they did not have access to period products. 25% have missed class due to a lack of access to menstrual products. 83% believed that poor access to period products is an issue that is not adequately discussed.
51% of students felt like their school does not care about them if they do not provide free period products in their restrooms. There are also feelings of shame involved in periods and menstrual products, with 69% of teens reported feelings of embarrassment whenever they bring period products to the restroom. Alarmingly, 57% felt personally affected by the negative association surrounding periods while 64% believed that society teaches people to be ashamed of their periods.
In another survey done by KidsCan, a charity in New Zealand dedicated to creating brighter futures for Kiwi children in need, 53.1% of 1,300 Kiwi women (8.6% frequently and 44.5% occasionally) found it difficult to access sanitary products due to cost as some point. 23.6% said they missed school or work due to poor access to sanitary wear.
One in three Kiwi women said they had to prioritize purchasing other necessities such as food over sanitary products. When they could not afford them, 53.8% resorted to using toilet paper, 7.7% used rags, and 3% used old cloth—though many of the respondents used disposable or cloth nappies.
Among respondents aged 15-17 years old, KidsCan found that 7% were currently struggling to afford sanitary products. 29% said they missed school or work due to periods and poor access to sanitary wear. One respondent narrated, “I have to sacrifice a day or two of food to be able to afford what many call ‘a female luxury’” and another said, “It’s a luxury item for us, and our kids come first... I’ll just fold a length of loo paper.”
There’s More to Ending Period Poverty Than Giving Free Pads
Removing the “tampon tax” or providing free menstrual products for free in school and through food banks are some of the solutions normally advocated to make these products more affordable. Free and cheaper products aid in managing issues in the short run, but these fail to address the complexities of period poverty. Most stories about period poverty center on girls not going to school because they can’t afford menstrual products, but pads are not enough to keep them in school.
For example, Jane, who is from Uganda, was given reusable pads but chose not to use them. She did not attend school and she also did not have information about how to use the pads. Jane was too embarrassed to ask at school, placing the box of pads under her bed and continuing to skip class when menstruating.
Susan used the reusable pads but it was difficult to use them at school while following the instructions. She skipped class. Susan was informed that the reusable pads needed to be washed with soap and dried under the sun. Sadly, the restrooms at school did not have water or working locks. For Jane, leaking posed a problem as the pad would make her uncomfortable, preventing her from paying attention to the teacher. Changing her pads and drying them at home induced feelings of embarrassment, forcing Jane to stay at home during her period.
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, called out “period poverty” in Britain and globally at an event during International Women’s Day, stated Yomi Adegoke of The Guardian, a British newspaper. Meghan compared the plight of girls in India and Africa who miss school to that of British teens. She argued that the girls in India, Africa, and Britain suffer from period poverty “because no one wants to talk about it or has what they need.”
Period stigma plays a part in barring women’s access to their needs, but it is an institutional issue that is correlated with “economic disenfranchisement” and continued disregard for women’s bodies. Lizzie Goolden, a University of Leeds graduate, was told by one UK girl: “My sister gets very anxious whenever on her period because she is worried about leaking and what people will think. This makes her not want to leave the house.”
The sentiments of the girl echoed that of the Ugandan students. “It’s a disgrace that period poverty exists in the sixth richest country in the world,” said Dawn Butler, the shadow minister for women and equalities.
More Change, More Work
Fortunately, menstrual equity has been gaining traction as more policies are being enforced to combat period poverty at the state and municipal level. For example, Ohio passed a proposal repealing the sales tax on menstrual products in the House with unanimous support. But policymakers need to do more to combat period poverty.
Conversations are useful, but people need to take action to address this issue. Legislation should take into consideration homeless women who are unable to access sanitary products due to tampon tax. Policies must be enforced to ensure that menstrual products, sanitation, and hygiene are easily accessible, said Erica Sanchez and Leah Rodriguez of Global Citizen, a movement of engaged citizens who use their voice to end poverty. Such policies are helpful for homeless women and women in low-income households.
Everyone must acknowledge that too many students across the globe cannot afford menstrual products. By acknowledging this reality, people can take steps to eradicate period poverty and ensure that all women have access to period products.
Women and girls should have access to clean restrooms with running water to meet their hygienic needs. Information about using menstrual products should also be available. Conversations about the menstrual cycle can help destigmatize periods and debunk misconceptions. Period products are not luxury items. Hence, it is important for policymakers to make menstrual products accessible to women of all socio-economic status.