Period Poverty is a global issue that affects people in developed and developing countries. The lack of access to menstrual hygiene products can lead to physical health problems, such as infections and reproductive tract complications, and can have negative social and psychological consequences, including missed school or work days and stigma.
The lack of access to menstrual hygiene products can perpetuate the cycle of poverty by limiting education and employment opportunities. Period poverty disproportionately affects marginalized communities, including people experiencing homelessness, refugees, and those living in rural or remote areas.
The Alliance for Period Supplies reports that twenty-two states within the U.S. currently charge sales tax on menstrual products, making them more expensive and adding an inequitable burden to only half of the population.
Important Period Poverty Facts
Period poverty is caused by many cultural and economic factors, and understanding why it happens is very important to finding solutions. Easing the burdens of period poverty can make a world of difference to millions of people.
Being able to afford menstrual products is key. However, communication and education are even more important. Period poverty has become a widespread problem throughout the world in large part because of shame and period stigma surrounding menstruation. So reading about it and talking about it are crucial to making changes that will make a difference.
Here are key facts about period poverty that are great to learn and share.
What is Period Poverty?
Period poverty refers to the lack of access to menstrual hygiene products due to financial constraints. It can also be associated with a lack of access to education or facilities that allow for hygienic management of periods.
Period poverty is a global issue that studies show affects 500 million of the 1.9 billion people who menstruate. Period poverty is worst in places where even the most basic needs are not met, like sub-Saharan Africa, where only a little more than a quarter of the population has access to basic sanitation. In some cases, women and girls have desperately traded sex for menstrual supplies when they can not afford them.
How Period Poverty Affects Health
Lack of access to hygienic products can lead to physical health problems such as infections and reproductive tract complications. There are many areas of the world where there is no reliable access to clean water, making it difficult to safely wash reusable cloths and rags.
Period poverty can also have a significant impact on mental well-being. Women who struggle to access ample menstrual products have reported moderate to severe depression. In cultures where periods are considered unclean, and menstruation is not understood to be a normal, healthy part of the reproductive cycle, period stigma and misinformation lead to shame.
Young girls who do not have easy access to education about periods, or open dialogue with adults, may also feel isolated and confused by their periods. Bad feelings about periods commonly start early, and in families where there is a lack of information, the negative association can ultimately lead to physical health problems and mental stress.
Loss of Education Due to Period Poverty
Around the globe, girls’ education is limited by menstruation in areas that do not have proper menstrual health management facilities or where students are denied entry to school while they menstruate. In India, a UNICEF report shows 71% of young people are unaware of menstruation before they get their first period, and when they do, they drop out of school.
Girls and women who are menstruating in India are often considered unclean and are forbidden from being in a kitchen, participating in prayer, or learning. Twenty-eight percent of adolescent girls in Uganda and Ghana don’t go to school during their periods; they miss an average of four days of school each month, or 20% of the school year. In Kenya, two-thirds of girls lack health education or access to pads, and 25% drop out of school by the time they reach puberty, according to ZanaAfrica, a social enterprise working there to meet girls’ needs.
In the United States, there are students in every community who suffer from period poverty. One in four surveyed in the Thinx/Period 2021 State of the Period Report say they struggle to afford pads and tampons, and in most states, those products are not freely available in schools.
Students admit to using pads and tampons for longer than recommended, which can lead to health problems. Lower-income students and students of color are hit harder by period poverty than their white counterparts. Almost half of Black and Latinx students say their school work suffers as a result, compared with 28% of white students, according to the report.
In the last few years, there has been increased attention on the loss of education due to a lack of menstrual health resources. There are efforts in every state, often led by student advocates, to create policies and laws that mandate free period products on campus and in school bathrooms.
Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) introduced the Menstrual Equity for All Act in 2021, which would help in a wide range of programs aimed at student, inmate, and homeless populations. Meng calls access to menstrual products a healthcare and human right because “period poverty is debilitating and demeaning, and it is inextricably linked to a swath of issues – from economic justice to education; from housing to health care.”
Misinformation, Confusion, and Culture
There are often cultural and societal taboos surrounding menstruation that contribute to period poverty. These taboos are generally a manifestation of sexist practices that have existed for centuries. They have been used to subjugate girls and women who have, over time, come to believe the misinformation, which results in their lack of self-worth. That cycle perpetuates itself and is exceedingly difficult to break in cultures with little to no outside influence.
In India, for example, as discussed, menstruation is often seen as unclean, and women and girls are shunned during their cycles. According to CARE International, they are believed to be bad luck to their families and communities when they are bleeding and are ostracized. Girls in Bolivia are told period blood can cause illness, including cancer. And in Nepal, women are exiled to makeshift tents when they are menstruating, exposing them to the elements and physical violence.
In the United States, even with progress, people negatively associate periods from early on. Euphemisms like “the curse” and “bloody mary” perpetuate the belief that periods only serve to inconvenience and cause pain. A focus on body positivity and women’s health in recent years, particularly on social media, has provided some balance and opened up dialogue for those who might not otherwise be exposed to learning about reproductive health.
What’s Being Done About Period Poverty
Addressing period poverty can be complicated; it is both an economic issue and one perpetuated by long-held cultural beliefs and customs. Communication and education are at the core of any solution. For either to be successful, there must be buy-in and support from those who have long perpetuated the stereotypes, as well as menstruators whose reframing of the issue will serve their needs.