Period poverty is a growing issue in global health. With another Menstrual Hygiene Day in the rearview mirror it’s important to keep discussing the gaps that menstruators face each month.
According to UNFPA, period poverty describes the struggle that women and girls face when trying to afford menstrual products such as tampons, sanitary napkins, pain medication and underwear. Period poverty affects menstruators all over the world, even those in higher income countries like Canada. Period poverty relates to the access of infrastructure and sanitation. Globally, about 2.3 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation like running water and soap, which makes managing periods at home an even larger challenge. A report conducted by United Way in British Columbia, Canada found that 51% of respondents reported that they had struggled to purchase menstrual products for themselves. There are many stigmas and social/cultural norms that affect how menstruation is perceived which contributes to period poverty and access to menstrual products. Many female menstruators have felt the need to lie about having their period or hide their menstrual products.
Many people were struggling to keep up with their menstrual needs before the pandemic happened, and now the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated period poverty around the world. There has been less access to clean water, sanitary products, and proper disposal of products. Rural and remote communities and marginalized populations suddenly did not have access to products that were typically donated and imported. Community organizations and initiatives like Moon Time Sisters struggled to deliver menstrual products to those in need due to border closures and increased shipping costs. With the closing of community centres and school, women and girls were cut off from the necessary education to tackle stigma and cultural taboos around menstruation, leaving women feeling isolated and stressed out.
Period poverty affects millions all over the world. Some countries and nations have made small but important legislative changes in order to improve period poverty in their community. In July 2015, Canada finally recognized menstrual products as essential items, removing the GST tax from all items including liners and menstrual cups. In late 2020, Scotland became the first nation to implement free menstrual products for anyone that needs them. Products are now legally required to be available in all schools, colleges and universities, and community washrooms.
Fun fact: Menstrual Hygiene Day has a dedicated online platform that draws attention to, and promotes good menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) for menstruators around the world.
If the goal is to eradicate period poverty by 2030, then we need further action. One day a year won’t be enough to end period poverty everywhere. We need to advocate for menstrual equity 365 days throughout the year.