Access to Feminine Hygiene Products and the Economy

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TACOMA, Washington — Period hygiene is a major issue in impoverished countries. In these nations, access to feminine hygiene products and education regarding how to stay clean during menstruation are lacking. This causes a plethora of issues for young girls that they would not face otherwise. For example, with easy access to feminine hygiene products, girls will not have to skip class because of their period. Also, gaining knowledge on how to stay clean during menstruation will help girls prevent certain infections.

UNICEF found that 7% of the women and girls surveyed in Kenya relied on old clothing, pieces of old blankets, chicken feathers, mud and newspapers to manage their periods. Only 46% used disposable pads and 6% used reusable pads.

Periods in Developing Countries

Poor menstrual hygiene in impoverished countries has a negative impact on several aspects of a female’s life, including:

  • Malnutrition: In some countries. people do not have access to toilets, making it more difficult for females to go to the restroom. To compensate, they will usually eat and drink less, compromising the health of women and girls in these nations. In Cambodia, 25% of all workplaces do not have toilets. The same is true for around 14% of workplaces in the Philippines.
  • Discomfort in School: Menstruation impacts girls’ education, since it can cause discomfort and even the inability to participate in some school activities. Periods may also cause girls to feel anxious about any odors caused by their menstruation. In Africa, one in ten girls miss school during their lifetime due to menstruation, according to the U.N. education agency. 
  • Effects on the Workforce: Similar to the issues in school, menstruation may cause women to feel extremely uncomfortable while at work. It can sometimes prevent them from completing tasks. Thus, employers hire women significantly less frequently than men because of the belief that they are less desirable candidates

Improving Access to Feminine Hygiene Products

In 2019, South Africa instituted a policy that abolished taxes on feminine hygiene products, such as pads and tampons. Global Citizen is also lobbying the South African government to pledge $58 million annually to provide free sanitary pads for all girls in the 4th through 12th grades in public schools.

In Kenya in 2017, an amendment to the Education Act, signed by President Uhuru Kenyatta, specifies that free, appropriate and high-quality sanitary towels must be given to every school-registered girl. Furthermore, schools must supply girls with a healthy and environmentally friendly disposal mechanism.

Over the course of two years, a trial experiment was conducted across eight schools in Uganda in partnership with Plan International Uganda. The purpose of this research was to see whether school attendance increased when girls had access to reusable sanitary pads. Girls were equipped with AFRIpads, a washable, reusable sheet of cloth made in Uganda. The attendance of girls then increased by around 17%, which is equal to 3.4 days out of every 20 days. The research project showed that the availability of sanitary pads and education about reproductive health are essential to increasing school attendance.

Menstrual Hygiene and the Economy

In many impoverished countries, girls have a harder time managing their periods. Menstruation causes many girls to skip class for four to seven days, missing the information taught during that week.

Women with fair jobs are crucial to ethical business, but periods can prevent working women from completing certain tasks. This issue leads to men becoming more valuable employees and creates a weaker economy. If both genders contribute their share of the workload, then the economy would strengthen and grow faster.

Economic equality means women’s and men’s capacities to participate in and benefit from growth are viewed as equally important. Therefore, governments and workplaces would provide both genders with adequate means to work equally – including the ability to receive an education earlier in life. A lack of education for girls could lead to a major decrease in national finances.

Ultimately, poor menstrual hygiene holds females back from their education and their contribution to the workforce. As governments in developing countries begin improving access to feminine hygiene products, fewer girls are skipping class. Additionally, humanitarian organizations are fighting for free, easily-accessible pads and tampons for all women. When period hygiene and gender equality improves, the economy directly responds with increased annual per capita income.

Megan Ha
Photo: Flickr

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