Half of the world’s population — over 1.9 billion people — menstruates, yet it’s estimated that 500 million people live without adequate menstrual hygiene.
As a result of centuries of stigma, shame, miseducation, and sexism around menstruation, people all over the world lack access to menstrual products, education, and or facilities to manage menstruation. In other words, they experience period poverty.
We answered some of the most common questions about period poverty below.
1. Where is period poverty the worst?
Millions of people in developed and developing countries alike experience period poverty, but it disproportionately impacts low-income communities. Globally, 12.8% of women and girls live in poverty and struggle to access the resources to manage their periods.
In India, where people who menstruate are widely considered impure and dirty and are often shunned from participating in activities and society, approximately 12% of women cannot afford menstrual products.
Period poverty is also prominent across sub-Saharan African countries, where only 27% of people have access to basic sanitation. Around 25% of women in Nigeria lack adequate privacy to manage their periods, which often prevents them from attending school and puts them at higher risk of sexual violence. In Kenya, where 65% of women find sanitary pads to be too expensive, women have reported that they’ve been forced to trade sex for menstrual products because they could not afford them. Meanwhile, in South Africa, a study conducted by Stellenbosch University found that an estimated 30% of girls do not attend school while they’re menstruating because they can’t afford menstrual products.
Data has revealed that period poverty is increasingly becoming an issue in wealthy countries as well.
A survey sponsored by the menstrual product brand Always found that 1 in 5 girls in the US miss school because they lack access to menstrual products. In the UK, the organization Plan International found that 1 in 10 girls can’t afford to buy menstrual products, and 49% have missed an entire day of school because of their period. As many as 27% of girls aged 10 to 18 in the UK who participated in another survey conducted by Always and market research company OnePoll said that they avoided going out during their period because their families couldn’t afford menstrual products. Girls in Scotland face similar obstacles, with 1 in 4 of more than 2,000 survey participants reporting that they struggled to access menstrual products, according to a study conducted by the organization Young Scot.
2. Does period poverty impact mental health?
Research has shown there is a direct connection between period poverty, poor quality of life, and poor mental health. When people can’t manage their periods safely and with dignity, it can take a toll on them physically, and mentally, increasing feelings of shame and embarrassment. Always surveyed 1,000 women and 39% of them who had a lack of access to menstrual products said they suffered from anxiety or depression. The stress induced by experiencing poverty can negatively impact a person’s ability to focus and participate in work, school, and society.
3. How is COVID-19 impacting period poverty?
As more people are being pushed into extreme poverty worldwide because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are more likely to experience period poverty. Access to social services has declined, limiting access to education and resources that would normally help people manage their periods. People can no longer rely on schools or community spaces to access free menstrual products, for instance.
One survey found that 1 in 4 people between the ages of 13 and 35 reported that they were having a more difficult time managing their periods during the pandemic.
Health professionals surveyed by Plan International in 30 countries said shortages or disrupted supply chains were causing major issues in people’s access to menstrual products. The majority of survey participants, 68%, also noted that restricted access to sanitation facilities and an increase in the price of sanitary products is exacerbating period poverty.
4. How can we end period poverty?
There isn’t a single solution to solving period poverty, but activists, the private and public sectors, and individuals can come together to help tackle the issue in several ways. Engaging boys and girls in education and everyday conversations that normalize menstruation is key to ending taboos around the natural process, advocates say. Governments must also support policies that ensure everyone has access to the resources and information they need to manage their periods and prioritize menstrual hygiene in COVID-19 relief efforts.