What is period poverty and how can we tackle it?

Every month, almost every girl and woman of child-bearing age around the world will experience a period. This means that they will bleed every month from their vagina. For most, this is uncomfortable, but bearable. This is because most women are able to use menstrual pads or other products to collect the blood so that it does not leak. However, many women and girls around the world are forced to use paper, socks or scraps of fabric to catch the blood, instead of menstrual products made specifically for this. They do this because, if they have to choose between buying food, or buying menstrual products, they will almost certainly choose to buy food.

This is one effect of period poverty. Period poverty is when a person finds it difficult to afford the items they need to deal with their period. It is easy to forget that many people need multiple types of product (for example, more than one thickness of absorbent pad) to collect their period blood. They may also need extra underwear, in case some gets stained. Or they may need medicine to reduce the pain that sometimes comes with periods. Therefore, having a period can be much more expensive than some people think.

WHY IS PERIOD POVERTY A PROBLEM?

65% of girls in Kenya cannot afford any form of menstrual product (according to FSG, a research consultancy). This is very dangerous. Although it is possible to make period products at home, using the wrong materials such as paper or scraps of fabric can be very dangerous. If the items used are not soft enough, it can cause irritation. If they are unclean or are used for too long, it can cause serious infections. Many children who have periods are also scared to attend school, in case the blood leaks during the day. Women can also be scared to attend work, for the same reason. This can make it more difficult for women and girls to contribute fully to society, which damages the local economy and therefore affects all members of the community.

HOW CAN PERIOD POVERTY BE TACKLED?

Around the world, many charities are working to end period poverty. For example, the charity Freedom4Girls works in Zambia, Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya and the UK, distributing kits that include menstrual pads, as well as spare underwear and education packs about menstrual health. Both Freedom4Girls and another organisation, The Cup, are also using reusable products as a way to reduce period poverty. If women can use just one fabric pad, which they wash, or one menstrual cup (a flexible plastic cup inserted inside the vagina), which they reuse every month, then this could reduce the cost of having a period. Encouraging the use of reusable products could be one way of ending period poverty, and all the health risks and economic damage that come with it.

JULIET DOWLEY

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