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Breaking the Cycle: What is Period Poverty?

Written by Cove Johnson Rabidoux

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reports that one in ten students in Sub-Saharan Africa miss school because of their periods. According to other sources, this could equal as much as twenty percent of a school year. And the problem is that this number continues to increase, due to period poverty and stigma. So what exactly is period poverty and why is it detrimental? 

Period poverty is an issue that affects women and girls of all ages around the world, including the United States. American University in Washington DC writes, “In the US, homeless, low-income, imprisoned women, transgender, and nonbinary individuals who menstruate are all impacted by period poverty at a much higher rate.” Period poverty refers to the hardships many low-income people experience when trying to afford or obtain period products. Period poverty remains a major challenge for many girls and women, who often lack access to basic hygiene products such as pads, or tampons. However, those aren't the only essential products that those affected by poverty have difficulty obtaining. Pain medication, wipes, and underwear are also items that are hard to access for those living in poverty.

In some countries, the situation is even worse because of superstitions and the lack of education surrounding menstruation. As a result, many people are forced to use materials such as rags, newspapers, cardboard, and even leaves due to the lack of access to or affordability of sanitary products. The supplies they are driven to use are often unsanitary and unreliable, which can lead to severe diseases, leaking, and health complications such as infections, toxic shock syndrome, and even death. Plus, period poverty and insufficient menstrual products have an emotional toll on those who can’t afford proper supplies. Depression, extreme anxiety, and fear are all higher in those who experience period poverty.

But period poverty doesn’t just encompass inaccessible menstrual products, but also inadequate access to bathrooms and sinks/hand washing receptacles. Clean water is crucial for everyone to maintain proper hygiene, but fresh water is especially critical in terms of menstrual-related hygiene. 

As a result, we need to advocate for cleaner water access and ensure that all individuals have access to menstrual products. This can be done by providing access to free pads and tampons in schools, creating funds to make products more affordable, and providing education in schools and communities around the world. 

The good news is that there are already organizations working to raise awareness and provide access to affordable period products. In addition, governments around the world are beginning to recognize and acknowledge menstrual hygiene and its impact on girls worldwide. They are taking steps to make period products more accessible and affordable. In fact, in 2022 Scotland became the first country to offer sanitary products for free. So we have to continue to advocate for more awareness and initiatives to ensure that everyone has the essential period products they need.

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