Author: Liana Shi, The Hockaday School '24
Edited by: Sammy Freeman, The Hockaday School '22
So what exactly is period poverty? The definition of period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, and/or waste management. Achieving menstrual equity means access to sanitary products, proper toilets, hand washing facilities, sanitation and hygiene education, and waste management for people around the world. The impact of period poverty is huge. It risks the systematic exclusion of girls and women from life-changing opportunities such as education. One in ten girls in Africa have to miss school due to the lack of access to sanitary products, or because there are not safe, private toilets to use at school. According to World Health Organization (WHO) research in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 90% of female students in rural areas do not visit school for four or five days while on their period. Even in developed countries, there are still womxn and girls that suffer from period poverty. The United States is not immune. Students, low-income and homeless womxn and girls, transgender and nonbinary individuals, and those who are currently imprisoned, struggle with period poverty, In the UK, a reported 137,700 girls have missed school due to period poverty. They risk falling 145 education days behind to their male counterparts.
For many girls all over the world, their period means an end to their education.
The lack of period products also means that these women have to resort to less hygiene products to take care of their period. UNICEF found that in Kenya, 7% of women and girls that they surveyed relied on old clothes, pieces of blankets, chicken feathers, mud and newspapers. 46% used disposable pads and 6% used reusable pads. These alternatives are of course, not a healthy hygiene solution to period poverty.
Period poverty is often worsened by the stigma that still surrounds menstruation in many communities, making it difficult to practice optimal hygiene. Growing up, many girls have been taught that period is something dirty, something that should not be talked about -- this kind of menstrual shame can often lead to girls "handling their periods incorrectly or even unsafely."
Because of the huge impact period poverty can impose on womxn, it's essential to find solutions to these problems. There are several organizations devoted to helping womxn and girls who suffer from period poverty through donations and charity. But I believe in order to fully address this issue, it is vital for governments to have regulations involving these matters. Currently 35 states in the United States view these items as luxury goods and impose sales tax, also known as the “tampon tax” or “pink tax” on menstrual hygiene products. However, items such as viagra and condoms are not included in the sales tax, as they are deemed as medical necessities. If viagra, rogaine and condoms are necessities, shouldn't pads and tampons be necessities? After all, pads or tampons are used much more widely and consistently by people who menstruate.
Schools also play an important role in ending period poverty among students. According to girls’ rights charity, Plan International UK, one in ten girls (10%) have been unable to afford sanitary wear in the UK and one in seven girls (14%) have had to ask to borrow sanitary wear from a friend due to affordability issues. Thus, changes have been taken. State schools and colleges in England can now order free period products for students as part of a government scheme to tackle period poverty. It follows the government's announcement last March that it would fund free period products for secondary school students.
Immediate measures should be taken in order to end period poverty, due to the huge impact it can make on womxn and girls all over the world.
graphic by: Savannah Frederiksen, The Hockaday School '23