What is period poverty?
Period poverty means a lack of access to menstrual products and facilities, most often experienced by low income families who cannot afford them.
Period poverty is a global public health crisis for low income and low resource communities around the world. No country is believed to be immune, however a number of countries have announced and/or implemented plans to abolish period poverty by making period products free to all, including Scotland, Botswana, Uganda, Zambia, New South Wales and Victoria in Australia, Seoul in Korea, and a number of US states and Canadian territories.
Period poverty vs period dignity
As we have discussed, period poverty is the lack of availability of period products and access to facilities, most often due to financial circumstances. No one should have to decide between food and menstrual products, nor suffer indignities forced upon them by outdated stigma attached to menstruation.
Period dignity refers to the right to access period products and facilities, as well as appropriate education about menstruation, and the removal of all taboos, shame, and stigma surrounding it. In fact, a recent report found that a third of all parents feel uncomfortable talking to their children about periods even though they are entirely a natural and heavily bodily process. These damaging issues can lead to disempowerment of women, leaving them at risk of unhygienic practices, infection, illness and even death. In fact,
Understanding period poverty
Period poverty is a complex and sensitive subject with many angles and factors involved including financial poverty, outdated cultural practices, and a range of factors affecting those who menstruate.
What causes period poverty?
Period poverty is in most cases a financial issue, with low-income families unable to afford the monthly cost of period products. Cultural and societal stigma also add to the poor treatment of menstruators and disrupts the education of anyone who is a member of a community that holds onto taboos and perpetuates false information about menstruation.
Period poverty in the UK
With inflation running at a 40 year high in the UK, and families choosing whether to heat their home or eat on any given day, tampons and sanitary pads are one necessity that can become unaffordable to many. This has dire consequences for everyone in the family who menstruates. In fact, a recent survey has revealed that 32% of women aged 14-50 are worried that they will not be able to afford period products in the future, while 26% are wearing menstrual products for longer than they should, which will inevitably have a negative impact on health and hygiene.
In 2021 the UK government scrapped the Tampon Tax after more than seven years of campaigners fighting for menstrual products to be recognised as an essential instead of a ‘luxury’ item, and a number of supermarkets offering to take the VAT charge on period products on themselves, finally sparking a government response. However, the tax reduction alone is often not enough to make sanitary products accessible to all who need them and often remain unaffordable. On World Menstrual Health Day 2020, Plan International released the results of a global survey into period poverty which found that more than 30% of UK women and girls were unable to access period products during lockdown.
Period poverty globally
Globally, an astonishing 500 million menstruating people experience period poverty every month according to the Borgen Project. In Kenya it is estimated that 65% of all menstruators are unable to afford menstrual products, and 12% in India.
The tax levied on period products in some countries is up to 27% such as in Hungary, and 25% in Sweden, adding to the lack of accessibility for lower income families.
In parts of many countries including India and Africa, period poverty is not only a financial and accessibility issue, but periods and menstruation still have taboos and stigma attached to them which stifle health and hygiene education and open discussion.
In some rural parts of Nepal, the Chhaupadi is still practiced despite having been made illegal in 2005. The Chhaupadi involves banishing menstruating women and girls to huts, with little or no sustenance or hygiene facilities until their period has finished, or longer. The Chhaupadi has been repeatedly linked to physical and mental health issues as well as multiple deaths.
The effect of period poverty on those who menstruate
Period poverty can have a devastating effect on the mental and physical health of those who experience it.
The impact of period poverty on physical health
Periods come around once a month and lack of access to basic menstrual hygiene facilities does nothing to prevent this. Menstruators in the UK often have to resort to using rolled up toilet tissue or other absorbent materials to try to deal with their period, while those in even poorer communities resort to dirty rags and anything else absorbent they can use such as newspapers. Both examples regularly lead to infections and serious illness.
The impact of period poverty on mental health
Long lasting stigma and patriarchal norms designed to discriminate against women echo through the years and continue to affect menstruators from hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago.
These societal norms are designed to encourage bullying of those menstruating, and breed fear, embarrassment and shame in those who experience menstruation. In some instances, they are prevented from living their life normally, such as in the case of the Chhaupadi and in other cases where those menstruating may not be permitted to wash, cook, or carry out other day to day activities.
This has a profound effect on mental health and is linked with anxiety, low mood, poor self-esteem, and depression in those who have, and have not experienced mental health issues before.
The impact of period poverty on school and education
One of the most profound effects of period poverty globally is on education and schooling. ActionAid estimate that girls in Rwanda often miss 50 days of school per year due to period poverty, and that over two million menstruators in the UK aged between 14-21 have missed school due to period poverty.
Plan International UK found some shocking stats when it comes to the impact between periods and education with nearly 50% missing school because of their period, rising to 64% missing PE because of their period. Over the course of a year, the study found that a staggering 137,000 children miss school because of period poverty.
Period poverty is directly linked to missed school days, resulting in poorer results, decreased productivity, and reduced professional outcomes. The effects of this affect not only the person in question but their current family and future generations who suffer the effects of reduced economic empowerment.
The socio-economic impacts of period poverty
The effects of period poverty are far reaching, not only affecting the menstruator, but their family and community. Socio-economic factors play the majority part of the reason period poverty exists but is also impacted by the fallout from it.
The missed education from either days off or dropping out completely due to period poverty can lead to substantial losses in national wealth according to Woden et al, 2018, and ActionAid highlight how missed school days due to period poverty lead to higher rates of child marriage and pregnancy at a young age.
A period poverty report by Kerina Tull of Leeds University published in 2019 notes:
“World Bank figures estimate that wider society and national economies can profit from better menstruation management: with every 1% increase in the proportion of women with secondary education, a country’s annual per capita income grows by 0.3%. Empowered women and dignified work are critical to better business - business that is more ethical and more productive. Other than improved finance, impacts in Bangladesh, Kenya, and India include behaviour improvements in health and workplace gender equality outcomes, as well as improvements in self-esteem.”
Expert opinions on period poverty
Action Aid share the story of Jeanne, aged 14 and the effect ending period poverty has had on her education:
“The safe room has helped us a lot," says Jeanne, 14, who goes to school in Nyanza, Rwanda.
"Previously we would miss school so many times, when you have your period maybe for 3-5 days.
"But now this room is here it really helps us because we don’t miss school any more if we get our period. We come here, we shower, we use the equipment like pads then we go back to class."
The teachers in Jeanne's school say that, before the safe rooms, girls were struggling with their work because they were forced to miss school every month.
Now, they are now competing with boys to take the top positions in class.
Kylie Schuler writes for Global Girls Glow:
“For the global community, the repercussions of failing to provide girls with menstrual hygiene education, support, and supplies are long-lasting, pervasive, and represent a massive loss of potential. An investment in girls is the greatest investment we can make towards creating a strong, equitable society where everyone, not just girls and women, can live lives of their own design. To empower girls, we must make period poverty obsolete.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan commented in 2018:
“It is hard to believe that young women and girls in the capital are experiencing this type of poverty. Not being able to afford the products that they need is putting their health at risk and preventing them from fully engaging in their education. I am calling on the Government to take urgent action and end period poverty.”
Emma DeFoe from the charity Bloody Good Period explained the effects of the pandemic and showed how much work is still to be done recently told The Guardian:
“The government committed to tacking period poverty in 2019, yet despite the issue being so much worse now due to the combined impact of the pandemic plus the current crisis, there is no meaningful commitment nor funding to provide essential period products for people who can’t afford them,” Defoe says. “Instead, small charities like Bloody Good Period fill the gap.”
Why understanding period poverty should be important to you
Period poverty affects everyone. From young girls missing education, to adults needing to take days off work due to depression and pain, the ramifications of period poverty are huge and affect every part of society.
A survey conducted by Bodyform notes that “If a pupil misses school every time they have their period, they are set to fall 145 days behind their fellow students” and every month people already on low incomes miss work due to period poverty. Absenteeism increases and productivity decreases in the face of the physical and metal repercussions of dealing with period poverty.
What can your business do to help end period poverty
It’s never been easier for businesses to play their part in helping to end period poverty. With increased awareness comes increased avenues of support and education, with numerous charities in place to help raise awareness and support your business in effectively supporting those who menstruate.
Provide free sanitary products for adults
One of the most practical solutions is to provide free sanitary products for your employees and visitors. Replace coin operated tampon and pad dispensers with free-vend period product machines to help ensure that everyone who visits your washroom has access to the period products they need. Access to a clean hygienic washroom with free-vend or accessible, no cost period products aims to support those experiencing period poverty, reducing the mental and physical effects and helping them get on with their lives.
Citron Hygiene is proud to partner with Aunt Flow menstrual hygiene products to provide free-vend washroom dispensers and restocking service to ensure high quality menstrual hygiene products are available to everyone.
You can help raise awareness of period poverty and period equality with support from Citron Hygiene and Aunt Flow. Donating period products is a great way to offer support, as well as signing and sharing petitions, putting posters up in washrooms to help educate others about the issue, and raising money to donate to period poverty charities both in the UK and around the world.
Aunt Flow provides plenty of useful information including advocacy support resources.
Donate sanitary products
There are many charities accepting period products which are then distributed to schools, shelters and a range of other venues, as well as period product donations being accepted at your local food banks. Charities accepting donations include:
While Aunt Flow does not accept donations of sanitary products, for every ten packs of tampons or pads they sell, they donate one to a menstruator in need.