The pandemic has resulted in a global economic crisis. In particular, it has aggravated period poverty, which often results from more general economic downturns. This article will analyze period poverty, which is an ever-present problem in both developing and developed countries. Access to menstrual hygiene products has been made more difficult by the fact that the economic impact of Covid-19 has forced women and girls to prioritize other expenses over menstrual products.
Period poverty is a problem that affects the health, education, and emotional well-being of girls. According to the NGO Plan International, period poverty can be understood as women’s lack of access to menstrual health products, lack of education on menstrual health, and the lack of infrastructure for related waste management. Moreover, for many years women and girls have suffered from a dearth of accurate information on menstrual periods, which has impacted girls particularly badly. Many women and girls around the world are very embarrassed to talk about their menstrual cycle.
Impact of menstruation on girls’ education
Period poverty has a direct impact on girls’ education because they are often forced to skip school when they are on their period. Plan International conducted research in Uganda and Indonesia and found that about half of adolescent girls do not go to school when they are menstruating. From this, it can be inferred that thousands of girls miss at least 24 days of school annually. The study also found that 39% of girls suffer verbal abuse from classmates during their period.
In addition to the negative repercussions on their education, this problem affects the emotional well-being of girls and adolescents. The social stigma and the resulting lack of discussion on the subject causes many to feel isolation and rejection, which makes it difficult for them to understand and accept their menstrual cycle as a natural bodily process.
Global period poverty
Globally, at least 300 million women menstruate on a given day, and many do not have access to menstrual hygiene products such as sanitary pads, tampons, menstrual cups, and others, which are needed every month. In Ecuador, period poverty affects more than 4 million women of reproductive age. It is estimated that the average Ecuadorian woman spends 42 dollars annually on pads alone. This figure represents a high cost, especially in families with a low income, and where there are more than two women.
It should be noted that period poverty exists even in developed countries. For example, in France, almost two million women do not have the means to obtain hygienic protection on a regular basis. Likewise, US industry surveys estimate that one in four women have difficulty purchasing menstrual supplies due to poverty and that one in five girls miss school due to a lack of menstrual products.
Menstruation and stigmatization
Beyond ensuring better access to these essential products, work must be done to help eliminate the stigma that surrounds menstruation. Unfortunately, even in the 21st century, there are several countries where women have to face a very cruel reality due to the myths that stigmatize menstruation. For example, there are Asian cultures where women are considered impure during their days of menstruation. One of these countries is Nepal, where a practice known as chhaupadi exists. Women, during their menstruation period, are forbidden to contact other members of the community since there is a myth that at that time of the month women represent “bad luck”. Several women have even lost their lives due to this practice because, for example, by being put in isolated huts they have become victims of fires or floods, or they have been attacked by poisonous animals.
Chhaupadi was declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Nepal in 2005. However, there have been no sanctions on those who continue to practice it. It is still very present in some areas of western Nepal, where women and girls are driven out of their homes every month. Since the Supreme Court ban was not enough, Nepalese women’s rights organizations demanded a new law to toughen penalties and improve prevention systems. Thus, in August 2017, the Nepalese Parliament criminalized the practice, condemning anyone who forces a woman to isolate herself, or who promotes her isolation, to three months in prison and a fine worth roughly 28 USD. Despite this, the practice still occurs in some remote rural areas of Nepal where superstition and stigmatization prevail around menstruation.
To conclude, for many women and girls, each menstrual period comes with the anxiety of not knowing if they will have access to the products they need to manage their cycles. The taboos and stigma around the period of menstruation have resulted in a lack of visibility of a complex problem that affects women and girls in various aspects of their lives, such as their health, education, and emotional well-being. In addition, because of social inequalities thousands of girls and adolescents have to unfairly face period poverty since they do not have the necessary resources to be able to manage their menstruation period in a healthy and dignified way.