Periods, Aunt Flo, that time of the month, crimson tide, or whatever-you-name-it can be a real pain for many of us. The cramps, the acne breakouts, the backaches, the fatigue, our periods really do a number on us whenever they pass by.
But while our list of problems ends there, for over 70% of Indian women and 500 million women globally, it doesn’t. For them, lack of access to sanitary products, toilets, handwashing facilities, inability to afford sanitary products, and the cultural shame attached to menstruation are the real issues. This is called period poverty.
Here’s everything you need to know about period poverty, and how you can help.
What is period poverty?
Period poverty or menstrual poverty refers to the economic, social, cultural, and political barriers to menstrual hygiene – that is lack of access to menstrual products, education, and sanitation.
The term ‘period poverty’ originated to describe the economic and financial struggle many women and girls face to manage their menstrual health because they cannot afford sanitary products. Now ‘period poverty’ has become an umbrella term that encompasses:
- Lack of access to information about menstruation, life changes, and hygiene practices
- The inability to care for themselves during menstruation
- Lack of access to water, sanitation, and hygiene services
- The inability to receive a diagnosis for menstrual cycle disorders and lack of access to healthcare
- A negative and unsupportive environment towards menstruation
- The inability to participate in all aspects of life during menstruation, such as going to work, schools, family functions, religious gatherings and prayers, etc.
Impacts of period poverty
Health and hygiene
People can go to great lengths to manage their periods. Women in India have reported using menstrual rags, husk, ash, leaves, or even cow dung they could get their hands on to manage menstruation. Some more have reported that they’ve used menstrual products longer than it’s supposed to be used to get through their period with what they have.
But using these make-shift materials to manage menstruation causes more harm than good by putting individuals at a higher risk of contracting urinary tract and vaginal infections. In many parts of the world, and in many parts of India, the products and materials used to manage menstruation are not supposed to be seen by others, resulting in people washing and drying their menstrual rags and other menstrual products in unhygienic places in an effort to hide it, which can also cause various infections.
Using products longer than intended can also prove dangerous to life in certain cases; for instance, leaving a tampon in for too long can cause toxic shock syndrome – a rare but deadly infection.
Research has found that lack of access to the appropriate menstrual products can negatively affect someone’s mental health – making them feel depressed, distressed, and uncomfortable.
Another study has found that the majority of women who experienced period poverty had symptoms of moderate to severe depression. The same study has also found that women who experienced period poverty had higher rates of depression than those who didn’t. However, we can’t entirely be sure that period poverty is the source of their depression as poverty or low-income itself is directly linked to depression.
Work and workplace
Women may not have access to period products or sanitation facilities at the workplace, resulting in them missing work during their periods. This can create a vicious cycle of period poverty, as missed workdays can lead to reduced income and perpetuate the cycle of period poverty further.
Education and schools
In many cases, girls are forced to miss out on school during their periods due to a lack of access to sanitary products. This can result in them missing a significant number of school days, leading to a decline in their academic performance and grades.
Period poverty and stigma surrounding menstruation
Period poverty and the stigma surrounding menstruation are closely interlinked. Even though half the world’s population menstruates, the shame and stigma surrounding menstruation can make the issues related to menstruation such as period poverty go unnoticed and unaddressed.
The reason is that many cultures view menstruation as something dirty that should be hidden, and people are often reluctant to discuss it openly. This reluctance to talk about menstruation leads to a lack of awareness and understanding, which in turn worsens the stigma surrounding it.
Addressing period poverty
Addressing period poverty requires a comprehensive approach that includes increasing access to menstrual products, improving menstrual education and awareness, and reducing the stigma surrounding menstruation.
Access to menstrual products
Access to menstrual products is a crucial aspect of addressing period poverty. In many cases, individuals who experience period poverty are those who may not have access to the necessary menstrual products, such as period pads, tampons, or menstrual cups. This lack of access can lead to individuals resorting to using inadequate or unhygienic materials which can not only put the individual’s health at risk, but also contribute to the lack of awareness surrounding menstruation. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that menstrual products are readily available to those who need them.
Affordability of Menstrual Products
Many women who experience period poverty may not be able to afford menstrual products due to their price. As a result, they may be forced to make difficult choices, such as buying menstrual products or basic necessities like food. Governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can play a critical role in addressing affordability by providing subsidies or distributing menstrual products for free to those in need.
Alternative Menstrual Products
Alternative menstrual products can also help to address period poverty. For instance, menstrual cups are reusable and can last up to ten years, making them a cost-effective option. Similarly, reusable cloth pads are an eco-friendly alternative to disposable sanitary pads and can also be more affordable in the long run. By promoting the use of alternative menstrual products, individuals can reduce their reliance on disposable menstrual products, which can be expensive and difficult to access in some areas.
Menstruation and awareness
Education and awareness about menstrual health and hygiene are necessary to dispel myths, reduce stigma, and encourage positive attitudes towards menstruation. Providing accurate information about managing menstruation and menstrual products can also help people to make informed decisions about their health.
One effective way to educate young people about menstrual health is to provide menstrual education in schools. The curriculum can cover topics such as the menstrual cycle, menstrual product options, and hygiene practices.
Community Outreach and Support
Community outreach and support can also be an effective way to address period poverty. This can include providing free or low-cost menstrual products at community centers, homeless shelters, and other public spaces. It can also involve partnering with local organizations to distribute menstrual products and provide education about menstrual health. Additionally, community members can be encouraged to start their own initiatives to address period poverty, such as hosting donation drives or starting community-led menstrual product banks.
What can we do about period poverty?
Period poverty is a global issue that affects millions of people around the world. To address this problem, there are various strategies that can be implemented at the local, national, and international levels.
Activism and Advocacy for Menstrual Equity Activism and advocacy are crucial to creating policy changes and raising awareness about period poverty. This includes lobbying for government funding for menstrual products, pushing for the inclusion of menstrual hygiene in healthcare and education policies, and working to eliminate taxes on menstrual products. The ultimate goal is to achieve menstrual equity, where everyone has the necessary resources to manage their periods with dignity, safety, and comfort without facing financial, social, or cultural barriers.
Breaking the Stigma Surrounding Menstruation
Menstruation has long been stigmatized in many cultures, leading to shame, embarrassment, and discrimination for menstruators. Breaking the stigma surrounding menstruation is essential to addressing period poverty. This includes increasing menstrual hygiene awareness and understanding of menstruation and promoting positive conversations about periods. It also involves challenging myths and misconceptions about menstruation and promoting menstrual health as a normal part of life.
Normalizing menstruation means making it a regular, accepted, and uncontroversial part of daily life. This can be achieved through education and awareness campaigns that promote open discussion and dialogue about periods. It also involves challenging cultural norms that view menstruation as dirty or shameful and promoting a positive understanding of menstruation.
Changing the Conversation About Menstruation
Changing the conversation around menstruation means shifting the focus from shame and secrecy to empowerment and education. This can also be achieved by promoting open dialogue and discussion about menstruation, highlighting the health benefits of menstrual hygiene management, and encouraging menstruators to take control of their menstrual health.
Empowering menstruators means giving women the resources and tools they need to take control of their menstrual health. This includes providing access to affordable menstrual products, promoting menstrual education, and providing support for menstruators who may be experiencing period poverty. It also involves challenging gender norms and promoting gender equality, so that menstruation is not seen as a barrier to women's social and economic empowerment.
To conclude, Period poverty like other forms of poverty can be crippling. More than half of the world’s population are menstruating people, so it’s high time period poverty becomes everybody’s business.
Addressing period poverty requires a comprehensive approach that includes increasing access to menstrual products, improving menstrual education and awareness, and reducing the stigma surrounding menstruation. Governments and NGOs can play a critical role in addressing affordability by providing subsidies or distributing menstrual products for free to individuals in need. Alternative menstrual products like menstrual cups and reusable cloth pads are also eco-friendly and cost-effective options. With increased awareness and efforts to address these issues, we can ensure that everyone has access to the menstrual products they need, and no one has to face the physical and mental health consequences of period poverty and celebrate healthy periods.
December 30, 2022. 7 mins read