If you crunch the average number of how long a period lasts throughout a woman’s lifetime, and take into account how long an average period lasts each month, you will end up with the number seven. Seven years of a women’s premenopausal life will be spent dealing with her period and issues that arise with it. To put it into more tangible terms, a woman will be both physically and emotionally affected by her period for approximately 2,555 days of her existence.
Within this reality, it would be easy to assume that getting a hold of sanitary products would be easy and accessible. But that is not the case.
To put it into context, 2.3 billion people lack basic access to water and sanitation. Meaning that hygienically managing a woman’s period is almost impossible in certain parts of the world. Alongside that, sanitary products are expensive for many families, and when it is a question of eating for the next week or buying a box of pads, the choice is simple.
The Western world is not exempt from period poverty. According to Plan International UK, one in 10 females can’t afford to buy menstrual products in the United Kingdom. An additional survey taken by a grassroots group Women for Independence found that one in five women have experienced period poverty in Scotland.
WHAT IS THE BIG DEAL?
To understand the impact of period poverty, it’s critical to understand the setbacks women face when they cannot hygienically manage their period. Due to the stigmatization of menstruation, the shame associated with having a period, and lack of safe and clean products with which to manage a period, many girls will skip school or drop out.
Data released by UNICEF shows that one-third of girls in South Asia miss school during their period. Another study by Always found that, 44 percent of women who have experienced period poverty have issues finding employment.
In some parts of the world, girls may manage their periods with dirty rags, sands, or tree bark. These unsanitary ways of managing menstruation can lead to disease and complications. Poor menstrual hygiene has been linked with reproductive and urinary tract infections. Alongside physical complications, period poverty can potentially result in anxiety and depression.
WHAT COUNTRIES ARE DOING TO CHANGE THIS
In response to period poverty, certain countries have taken a proactive approach to tackling the issue. In 2018, Scotland became the first country in the world to make sanitary products free to students at schools, colleges, and universities. Lower-income families also have free access to sanitary products.
England quickly followed suit, passing a law that will make sanitary products free in secondary schools and colleges in England starting in 2020.
One of the main issues surrounding period poverty is the cost of sanitary products. In most parts of the world, sanitary products are considered luxury goods—items not considered a necessity—and are taxed accordingly. This makes tampons and pads even more inaccessible.
In response, countries such as India, Australia, Kenya, Canada, and Ireland have gotten rid of taxes typically added on to sanitary products.
In the United States, only 10 states do not tax feminine hygiene products. These states are Nevada, New York, Florida, Illinois, Connecticut, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland, and New Jersey.
New Hampshire and New York have mirrored legislation passed in Scotland and England by requiring schools to provide sanitary products free of charge.
WHAT COMPANIES ARE DOING TO CHANGE THIS
Menstrual hygiene companies such as Cora, Always, and ilo are actively working to end period poverty.
For every purchase, Cora, an organic women’s wellness company, provides period products and reproductive health education to girls in need through its giving partners in Kenya and India. Cora also partners with nonprofits inside of the United States in order to provide menstrual products to those in need. To date, the company has donated over five million pads.
ilo, a hygiene product company based in Ireland, gives 50 percent of all revenue to organizations that fight period poverty in Ireland.
Companies that are outside of the menstrual hygiene world are also getting involved, such as Vistara, an Indian airliner, which announced recently that it would provide sanitary napkins to passengers on board.
THE GLOBAL IMPACT
Approximately 26 percent of the world’s population is made up of women of reproductive age. Many of them do not have access to basic hygiene, nor are they able to afford pads or tampons.
The inability to afford feminine hygiene products, coupled with the stigmatization and shame associated with periods, not only limits the futures of girls around the world, it impacts us all on a global scale.
As a global community, we have a responsibility to continue the conversation on period poverty in order to ensure a healthy and prosperous future for girls everywhere.