Period poverty refers to the constraint women have in accessing sanitary products due to financial difficulty. Without access, women are left to use unhygienic ways to manage menstruation. Whilst period poverty is fought worldwide, the stigma surrounding periods has prevented any significant progress in tackling the issue.
Arguably, menstruation has become a biological barrier for gender equality. The normal bodily function for half of the population is strictly a taboo. Young girls and women face many challenges throughout managing menstruation, some of these issues however can be avoided. Access to sanitary products, a clean toilet and water facilities as well as pain relief if needed, should be considered as every woman’s basic right. On top of this menstruation itself can cause women and girls to be treated differently. Discrimination can be found throughout cultures all over the world. Period poverty reinforces such effects, causing women to become excluded from public life, providing a barrier to opportunities as well as increasing vulnerability.
Attending a secondary state school, I experienced first-hand the effects of period poverty. Whilst I was fortunate to come from a family who could afford period pads, tampons and other menstruation related products, there were many girls who missed school as they came from families who already struggled to put food on the table. Not only did these girls feel a burden to their family every time they had a period, they also felt let down by the institution, who failed to provide the support they needed. These girls are merely a small fraction of the 49% of UK girls who have missed at least a day at school due to menstrual issues. Many are left to use socks, tissues or even newspapers or leaves as alternatives to sanitary products which can lead to infections, such as yeast infections and urinary tract infections. The mental effects of period poverty are just as important and dangerous to female healthcare. The mountain of stress produced from such a situation makes an individual feel overwhelmed, worthless and unsupported. Such isolation from education, work and society increases one’s vulnerability to depression.
Period poverty can be found more predominately within developing countries. Many girls are found to have very little education concerning menstruation, and therefore are unprepared for the changes their body faces. Without access to clean water and sanitary products women already faced with poverty are made to put their health at risk. Traditions within cultures also play a large role in gender discrimination. Many women are left to feel dirty and unclean throughout their menstrual cycle where they are hidden from society.
The discrimination found against menstruation contradicts many human rights an individual is entitled to: the right to gender equality, the right to education, the right to dignity and the right to an adequate standard of healthcare. Currently this breach of human rights has gone unnoticed; this does not mean it should continue. Whilst charities have been on the frontline bringing support to women in need, governments have made little effort to support them. However recent actions taken by certain states suggest the issue at hand is beginning to attract the needed attention: The UK government launched a scheme in 2019 as an attempt to tackle period poverty. The program details how schools can apply for free period products to give to their students. Previously the Scottish government has invested £5.2 million into a similar scheme for schools, colleges and universities. Whilst this is a huge step forward, we can question whether or not this is enough, does such actions truly tackle the period poverty. Up until March 2020 the UK deemed sanitary products as a ‘luxury’ therefore placing 20% tax on every product bought. The majority of the states in the USA still charge tax for women’s pads and tampons. By economically benefiting from sanitary product purchases, highlights the current mindset stamped across the world when it comes to menstruation.
Whilst economic success is deemed as the universal goal for all states, society has begun to forget those who contribute towards such a success, and their own individual needs, such as healthcare. As the standard of the modern world has developed so should the universal accessibility for healthcare products. To break the stigma surrounding menstruation and move towards a society where women are not repressed, our view of what menstruation is must change. Period.