Month After Month: Period Poverty

Up to 500 million women and girls are living each month in period poverty.

Due to financial constraints, they lack access to essential tools for menstrual hygiene management (MHM), such as sanitary products and handwashing facilities.

Period poverty is often worsened by the stigma that still surrounds menstruation in many communities, making it difficult to practise optimal hygiene. It risks the systematic exclusion of girls and women from life-changing opportunities such as education.

Ultimately, without adequate support for MHM, the health, wellbeing and safety of women and girls is threatened. FIGO calls attention to the lack of effective, coordinated approaches for assisting vulnerable women to manage their menstruation with dignity.

Financial expense

The cost of purchasing sanitary products every month is a significant hurdle for many women across both high and low-resource settings.

In the European Union, sanitary products are regulated and taxed as luxury items. This 5 percent so-called ‘tampon tax’ is a burden on household incomes: past studies report that a fifth of UK parents have struggled to afford sanitary protection for their daughters.

Around the world, an estimated one in ten young women has been unable to afford protection for their period. 12 percent have been forced to improvise with devices that may be ineffective, unhygienic and unsafe.

Beyond the immediate inconvenience, discomfort and expenditure, the high financial cost of MHM can expose women and girls to physical, sexual and reproductive risk, as reported in this study from rural Kenya.

Women and WASH

As in so many areas of public health, poor quality services disproportionately impact adolescent girls - particularly during menstruation.

Goal 6 of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development focuses on clean, accessible water for all; but according to UNICEF, 2.3 billion people still lack basic sanitation services. Without handwashing facilities, managing periods at home is a massive challenge.

The problem extends to schools, which often have no separate toilets with doors that can be safely closed, or facilities for the disposal of sanitary products. The WASH Poverty Diagnostics showed that 25 percent of women in Nigeria lack adequate privacy for MHM, while only 54 percent of schools in India had a separate and usable girls’ toilet.

FIGO asks that all health professionals ensure that water and sanitation (WASH) is embedded into commitments regarding the health and wellbeing of girls and young women. This is critical for improving maternal health outcomes, and for the 1.9 billion people menstruating regularly.

Long-term impact

Period poverty isn’t simply about the ability to manage and dispose of menstrual blood and products; the impact is long-term.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) research in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 90 percent of female students in rural areas do not visit school for four or five days while on their period.

In the UK, a reported 137,700 girls have missed school due to period poverty. They risk falling 145 education days behind male counterparts.

In cases where women and girls are excluded from everyday activities ranging from cooking to education and religious rites, menstruation becomes another framework that boosts inequality and entrenches the lower status of women.

Action

Lack of available information, poor sanitary infrastructure and unaffordable sanitary products combine to form a uniquely female healthcare crisis that negatively affects the life opportunities of women and girls everywhere.

It is essential that progress is made towards reducing period poverty and securing the full, healthy and safe participation of women and girls in their own lives. 52 percent of women and girls worldwide are of reproductive age; a basic biological occurrence cannot remain an economic and social obstacle.