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The Right to Dignity: The Need to Address Period Poverty Around the World

Mar 18, 2024
A calendar with four days crossed in red, partially covered by a few tampons and sanitary pads.


Did you know?

  • Globally, over 500 million women and girls lack adequate facilities for managing their periods.
  •  In some parts of the world, girls miss an average of 20% of school days per year due to the lack of access to menstrual hygiene products and facilities.
  •  In the United Kingdom, approximately 10% of girls ages 14 to 21 cannot afford menstrual products.
  •  A study surrounding menstrual periods and women in the United States showed that Blacks (35%) or Hispanics (36%) are more likely to struggle with period poverty compared to those who are White (23%).
  •  A review of correctional facilities in New York found that 54% of women in the facility said that they did not have enough sanitary napkins (pads) each month.


Understanding Period Poverty

Period poverty refers to the inability to afford or access menstrual hygiene products and proper sanitation facilities. It is a significant global issue, affecting women in both developing and developed countries.

When women face period poverty and lack access to sanitary napkins or tampons, they often resort to various makeshift methods to manage their menstruation. For example,

  • Cloth Rags or Fabric: Using clean cloth rags or fabric is one of the most common makeshift solutions. In some cases, young women may use old clothing items, even socks, as makeshift pads to absorb menstrual flow. These materials can be washed and reused, providing a more sustainable option.
  •  Toilet Paper: While not as effective or absorbent as sanitary napkins or tampons, toilet paper is sometimes used as a temporary solution to absorb menstrual blood.
  •  Newspaper or Tissue Paper: In emergencies, newspaper or tissue paper may be used as a makeshift absorbent material. However, these materials are not as effective or comfortable as dedicated menstrual products.

These makeshift methods are less effective, less comfortable, and less hygienic than commercially available sanitary napkins or tampons.


How Period Poverty Undermines Women’s Human Rights

Period poverty is a pressing issue that gravely undermines women's human rights. The inability to access menstrual hygiene products and adequate sanitation facilities not only affects physical health but also perpetuates stigma and shame surrounding menstruation.

 Below is a list of universally agreed human rights that can be undermined by period poverty:


  1. The right to health. Women and girls may experience negative health consequences when they lack the supplies and facilities to manage their period. The stigma associated with menstruation can also prevent them from seeking treatment for menstruation-related disorders or pain, adversely affecting their enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and well-being.


  1. The right to education. Lack of a safe place or ability to manage menstrual hygiene as well as lack of medication to treat menstruation-related pain can all contribute to higher rates of school absenteeism and poor educational outcomes. Studies have confirmed that when girls are unable to adequately manage menstruation in school, attendance and performance drop.


  1. The right to work. Poor access to safe means of managing menstrual hygiene and lack of medication to treat menstruation-related disorders or pain also limit job opportunities for women and girls. They may refrain from taking certain jobs, or they may be forced to forgo working hours and wages. Menstruation-related needs, such as bathroom breaks, may be penalized, leading to unequal working conditions. And women and girls may face workplace discrimination related to menstruation taboos.


Possible Solutions

Addressing the impact of period poverty requires a multifaceted approach involving various stakeholders, including governments, non-profit organizations, businesses, and communities.

Here are a few steps or solutions that can be taken to address period poverty:


  1.  Access to Affordable Menstrual Products

Governments and organizations should work to ensure that menstrual hygiene products are affordable and accessible to all. This may involve subsidizing or providing free menstrual products in schools, workplaces, and community centers, as well as implementing policies to eliminate sales taxes on these products.


  1.  Improving Access to Sanitation Facilities

Efforts should be made to improve access to clean and safe sanitation facilities, including toilets with running water and disposal facilities for menstrual products. This is particularly important in schools and workplaces where women and girls may otherwise struggle to manage their periods hygienically.


  1.  Menstrual Health Education

Comprehensive menstrual health education programs should be implemented in schools and communities to provide accurate information about menstruation, debunk myths and stigma, and teach girls (and boys) about menstrual hygiene management. These programs should also address broader issues of gender equality and empower women and girls to advocate for their rights.


  1.  Community Outreach and Support

Community-based initiatives can play a crucial role in supporting women and girls who are experiencing period poverty. This may involve setting up community-run menstrual product banks, providing education and support through local health clinics or women's organizations, and engaging community leaders to raise awareness and reduce stigma.


  1.  Addressing Cultural Taboos and Stigma

Efforts to address period poverty must also address the cultural taboos and stigma surrounding menstruation, which can prevent women and girls from seeking help or managing their periods effectively. This may involve media campaigns, community dialogues, and advocacy to challenge harmful beliefs and promote menstrual equity.


Final Thoughts

Period poverty can lead to stress, anxiety, and feelings of shame or embarrassment which, invariably, impact mental health. Lack of access to menstrual products undermines dignity and women’s self-esteem

All of us can play a role in finding a solution. We can support local initiatives, advocate for policy changes, and promote open dialogue to ensure access to resources. Likewise, governments can provide funding for programs and integrate menstrual health education into curricula.

We can all work towards addressing the impact of period poverty and ensuring that all women and girls have access to the menstrual products, facilities, and education they need to manage their periods safely, hygienically, and with dignity.



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