7 things you need to know about period poverty

Period poverty is a subject that I’ve been meaning to write about for some time and it recently came into the limelight again as The Guardian and the charity Bloody Good Period reported how the issue ‘has increased sharply during the pandemic’. So it feels timely that I bring you this guest post, written by 15-year old student, Mariam Al-Azzawi.

1. What is period poverty? 

Period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual education and safe washing facilities, due to financial or cultural constraints and is faced by many people around the world. It’s easy to imagine that it’s just an issue associated with low-income countries but it affects people in the UK too. 

When people are faced with limited access to sanitary products and forced to wear the same pad or tampon for a prolonged amount of time, it can increase the risk of infection or health complications.  With greater awareness and support, we can move forward in tackling the problem and work towards achieving menstrual equity.

2. Who does period poverty affect?

In the UK, 1 in 10 girls are unable to afford menstrual products and according to the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (Figo), up to 500 million people worldwide live in period poverty every month. 

This forces many people to improvise with all sorts of materials including rags, newspapers and sometimes tree leaves.  Not having access to sterile materials can increase the risk of infection, which could require medical treatment that may be unaffordable.

According to a survey by Plan International, 1 in 3 young people aged between 14 and 21 struggled to afford sanitary products during lockdown.

3. What causes period poverty?

Economic and social poverty, social stigma, cultural influences and traditions are just a few of the factors that can lead to period poverty. In some countries, women are taught not to talk openly about their periods and face shame and embarrassment when they are menstruating.

Here in the UK, one in ten girls has been told not to discuss their period in front of their mother or father and this was shown in a study conducted by Plan International in 2017. This might leave young people feeling like they don’t have anyone to speak to for advice and or medical support. 

4. Why should we care? 

Overcoming period poverty means that people can avoid missing school, have the necessary products to keep themselves clean and safe, and some will even begin to feel included in their communities where culture and tradition may have created barriers in the past. 

Supporting people around the world to have positive menstrual health that includes access to medical support, affordable sanitary products and pain relief, means that we will be making a positive difference to the lives of many around the world.

5. What’s happening to change this?

Recently there has been some positive change in attitudes towards menstruation around the world. 

In November 2020 Scotland became the first country in the world to make period products completely free of charge “to anyone who needs them”, making it a legal duty for all local authorities to make products available in schools and colleges. A number of charities are also working to end the struggle for many: Action Aid has completed several projects in parts of Africa, teaching girls about menstruation and how to make their own safe and sustainable sanitary products. 

6. What about the UK?

In December 2020, the UK government launched a free period product scheme for learners aged 16 to 19 to access free mensuration products in their place of study. Girls, non-binary and transgender learners can all benefit from this scheme (although according to Bloody Good Period only 40% of schools have signed up).

In January 2021, the UK government no longer deemed tampons a ‘luxury item’ so abolished the tampon tax, meaning there is now a zero rate of VAT on women’s sanitary products.

7. What can you do to help?

Fortunately, there are many charities and organisations working to tackle period poverty and there are ways you can help. You can find your nearest foodbank or shelter and donate a box of sanitary products.

The Red Box Project delivers boxes filled with pads, underwear and other products to schools around the country. 

You can also donate to Bloody Good Period, which works with refugees and asylum communities and gives ‘period products to those who can’t afford them, and menstrual education to those less likely to access it.’ 

Another project worth highlighting is The Homeless Period Project, which works to provide sanitary products for homeless women on their period. Watch the video above.

There are also a number of brands that donate to charities. Last year, Bodyform donated 3.6 million pads to local communities and charitable organisations to help end period poverty. The current goal is to donate 100,000 pads every month in a new pledge with In Kind Direct.

If you have any other tips or recommendations on how to help period poverty, leave us a comment – we’d love to hear from you.

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