Most women at some point in their lives have experienced ‘bloody disasters’, or have had the hushed conversations with friends about their monthly visitor’s unanticipated arrival. As embarrassing as these situations are, they are often one-off situations. For many women in the world, these ‘embarrassing experiences’ are their reality every month.
In a lifetime an average woman will spend approximately £18,450 for pads, tampons and pain relief for menstruation. The cost of dealing with periods is not feasible for many women living in poverty.
This is period poverty.
Period poverty is a global problem and is one of the most hidden and disregarded, yet deplorable forms of poverty. Having to choose between a meal or sanitary products is a common decision a lot of women and girls are faced with monthly. Many women attempt to deal with periods through using old newspapers or rags as a form of protection but these are often not effective and can be unsafe.
Gemma Abbott, a coordinator for The Red Box project (a campaign providing sanitary products to girls living in poverty in the UK), wrote an article for the Guardian arguing the case for universal access to sanitary products for all women. Abbott argues that the issue of access to appropriate sanitary products is more than just poverty related, but also associated with cultural and social factors. These factors include the stigma or shame often linked to menstruation as well as a lack of education within society associated with women’s health. Abbott’s article came as a response to the recent policy change in Scotland in which the government pledged to invest £5.2 million into providing free sanitary products to 395,000 students at schools, colleges and universities.
Scotland is the first country in the world to try to eradicate period poverty through government change. This policy is about more than just providing sanitary products. This policy is a step towards de-stigmatising menstruation, and therefore providing women with the chance to continue receiving an education regardless of their period.
The non–profit organisation Plan International found that 1 in 10 girls in the UK are unable to afford sanitary products and as a result they often miss school. It was also found that 48% of girls between the ages of 14- 21 are embarrassed to talk about their periods. These statistics and the hidden nature of period poverty emphasises that perhaps the way to tackle period poverty isn’t just through access to sanitary products, but also through breaking down stigma and educating people on periods not as shameful but as natural and healthy.
“Amika George, young activist and founder of the #freeperiods campaign, discusses the importance of de-stigmatising periods and period poverty in this video”
Over the last few years many initiatives around the world have aimed to tackle the issue of period poverty through providing free sanitary products (e.g. Street Cramps, The Red Box Project) or advocacy to de-stigmatise menstruation (e.g. #freeperiods ) These initiatives have slowly started to challenge the preconceived notions of menstruation shame, however, period shame still exists in a big way.
Perhaps through the example of Scotland, more countries will start to aim to fight period poverty, whether it is through eradicating the tampon tax or providing sanitary products for women of low income or students. Access to sanitary products should be a right that is granted to all women and girls.
However, perhaps the biggest goal is not just providing sanitary products, but also de-stigmatising menstruation and encouraging open discussion and learning about women’s health.
Rather than whispering in the playground, we should be shouting from podiums about the importance of the natural processes of being a woman.
Abbott, G. (2018, August 25). Let’s make period poverty history. The Guardian. Retrieved September 15, 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/aug/25/lets-make-period-poverty-history-girls-miss-school-sanitary-products
Love, B. (2017, December 13). Street Cramps: A 15-year-old tackles period poverty. TEDx Talks. Retrieved September 15, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmtp9Ke-m34
Plan International UK’s research on period poverty and stigma. (2017, December 20). Retrieved September 14, 2018, from https://plan-uk.org/media-centre/plan-international-uks-research-on-period-poverty-and-stigma
George, A. (2017, December 07). Period Poverty: Breaking The Silence. TEDxCoventGardenWomen. Retrieved September 15, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WRuKvLMkpA
Free Periods. (2017, Apri). Retrieved September 15, 2018, from https://www.freeperiods.org/
The Red Box Project. (2018). Retrieved September 14, 2018, from http://redboxproject.org/
Khomami, N. (2018, August 24). Scotland to offer free sanitary products to all students in world first. The Guardian. Retrieved September 16, 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/aug/24/scotland-to-offer-free-sanitary-products-to-all-students-in-world-first
Pal, S. (2018, August 10). The hidden shame of period poverty.The Meteor. Retrieved September 17, 2018, from http://www.themeteor.org/2018/07/17/the-hidden-shame-of-period-poverty/