Period poverty is the inability of a female to afford sanitary products, safe, hygienic spaces in which to use them and the right to manage menstruation without shame or stigma. Some people have still not heard about it, which is not surprising because a lot of us are still yet to grasp the idea of our world being a global village; if it doesn’t affect you, it doesn’t matter.
In place of these products, people are forced to use rags, paper towels, toilet paper or cardboards. Period poverty is not just about those who have no access to sanitary products, it also refers to the limited access of these products, which leads to prolonged use of the same products, ultimately resulting in infection.
All over the world, women and young girls who menstruate are ostracized from communal activities, even eating. Cultural shame and shortage of resources stop girls from going to school, and women from working.
With people being forced into lockdown to avoid the spread of COVID-19, there has been the challenge to access sanitary products and facilities they need to manage their periods hygienically.
Menstrual health is not just a women’s issue. According to WHO, globally, billions of people live without basic sanitation services, and in developing countries, only 27% of people have adequate handwashing facilities.
Not having access to these facilities makes periods harder to manage.
Menstrual Hygiene Day was initiated in 2014 by a German-based NGO WASH United to benefit women and girls worldwide in breaking taboos surrounding menstruation and raising awareness of the importance of good menstrual hygiene management worldwide. The date was purposefully selected to be 28th to acknowledge that 28 days is the average length of the menstrual cycle.
Today being the Menstrual Hygiene Day, and due to the pandemic, government agencies, organisations, groups and individuals have organized virtual meetings and done more work online in sensitizing the general public on the need for a collective approach to stopping period poverty.
Some organisations have also taken the initiative and been on the frontline during this pandemic by distributing hygiene kits to women and girls so they can safely manage their health. Girls and women are also being taught to make reusable cloth pads.
Consequences of period poverty include:
Girls miss out of school due to their periods, which negatively impacts their education.
Women and girls, especially those who have undergone female genital mutilation are at risk of infection when they repeatedly use dirty rags to stem their blood flow.
Community stigma can cause women and girls to feel shame and fear during their period.
What can be done?
Cost of sanitary products should be reduced, and in countries where sanitary products are considered luxury goods- items that are not considered a necessity- taxes are levied on the products; they should be removed. Some countries like India, Australia, Kenya and Canada have gotten rid of these taxes.
Beyond the removal of taxes, and in addition to the work being done by dedicated bodies, the shame and stigma associated with periods should be spoken and acted against.
About 800 million people menstruate daily, it should not be that women and girls are ashamed of something completely natural. There is a need for us all to act to end period poverty and guarantee a suitable environment for girls and women to live out their dreams, without fear.