In the US, nearly 20% of girls have missed school because they could not afford period products. Yet, due largely to social stigma around menstruation, period poverty isn't often discussed and hasn't received the attention it deserves.
"It's shocking that [period poverty] exists...but it's even more shocking that people don't realize it exists," Charlotte LeFlufy, Always' global social impact leader told the audience at the second annual Period Con in New York City on Jan. 26.
The empowering event was co-sponsored by Always, Procter & Gamble's leading feminine hygiene brand, and hosted by Period, a global youth-led organization that advocates for better access to and awareness of menstrual care. Both organizations are working to combat period stigma and ensure all people who menstruate have access to period products.
The event brought together youth advocates from across Period's network of high school, university, and community chapters for a weekend of panel discussions and workshops focused on energizing the â€œmenstrual movement. Activists from Ethiopia, Canada, Sweden, and across the US attended Period Con to talk about menstruation and learn more about the menstrual hygiene management challenges that people face worldwide.
"It's great to have you all here to help in your communities tackling that disbelief because unless we accept it's a problem, we're never going to change it," LeFlufy said.
Take Action: Speak Up: It’s Time to #EndPeriodPoverty
LeFlufy was joined on the Period Poverty panel by Period co-founder Vincent Forand, Period chapter founder Ashley Arevalo, and Dr. Melisa Holmes, gynecologist and founder of girls' health advocacy organization Girlology.
The panel discussion highlighted how women and girls around the world have been taught to feel embarrassed and ashamed of their periods. A lack of access to facilities and period products only adds to the shame and embarrassment many girls already associate with menstruation.
Without access to pads and tampons, many girls resort to improvised period products such as wadded up toilet paper or a sock. While these options aren't life threatening, they are "dignity threatening." Makeshift tampons however can pose serious health risks for women and girls.
"[Period poverty] unfair not only because it's [period products] not available, it's unfair because it's taking time away from their education," Dr. Holmes said.
But the negative impacts of period poverty don't just stop at interfering with education opportunities, they can also affect daily life.
"When we travel through life carrying shame and embarrassment, it affects our self-worth — it affects our ability to advocate for ourselves," Dr. Holmes said.
Period poverty is not just an issue in the US — it's a global problem. At least 500 million women and girls around the world do not have consistent access to the clean facilities and sanitary products they need to manage their menstrual health. In sub-Saharan Africa, 1 in 10 girls miss school during their periods, UNICEF estimates.
Always is working hard to help address period poverty in the US and globally.
The company has partnered with inspiring women like Gina Rodriguez to help raise awareness of the issue in the US and to inspire change. And in South Africa — where a lack of access to period products is a also major issue — Always has partnered with government officials, local celebrities, and Global Citizen to promote menstrual health and keep girls in school during their periods.
While period poverty most directly impacts women and girls, it can have have ripple effects for entire communities. Tackling the issue at a policy level requires that people of all backgrounds and genders get involved.
"For period poverty's sake, we need to have both sides of the conversation...everyone needs to talk about this subject," Forand said.
Always and Period are showing that progress is in the fight against period poverty underway but will demand continued collaboration between corporations, advocacy organizations, and community-based groups moving forward.