BELLEVUE, Washington — Period poverty, characterized by the lack of access to essential menstrual products and hygienic bathroom facilities, is a serious public health crisis that affects 500 million individuals globally. Women and girls are often affected negatively by not only the lack of accessibility and affordability of sanitary products but also the cultural stigma surrounding menstruation. Traditional connotations of shame, embarrassment and evil spirits that are associated with sexual reproduction frequently intermix strong superstitions and religious taboos on menstruation.
Unsurprisingly, period poverty is also linked to one’s mental health, work and education: unmet menstrual health needs are associated with higher rates of depression; girls suffering from negative menstrual experiences can be discouraged from enrolling and attending schools, thereby damaging opportunities in education and life.
According to a study conducted by the HerFlow Foundation in Jamaica, 42% of Jamaican girls experience period poverty and are forced to go without proper menstrual sanitary products for months at a time. These girls facing period poverty and lack of accessibility to sanitary supplies may miss up to one week of school per month, which would amount to missing nearly three months of the entire school year. Such critical disadvantages not only harm many girls’ educational fulfillment but also their future employment and income generation.
How HerFlow Fights Period Poverty in Jamaica
Although period poverty is a dire issue that requires greater attention and support, there is much being done to fight it. One organization involved in this fight to end period poverty is the HerFlow Foundation, which focuses its efforts in Jamaica.
HerFlow Foundation was founded in 2016 by author and activist Shelly-Ann Weeks, who envisioned supporting girls and women in Jamaica by empowering them through their reproductive health and rights. HerFlow Foundation also actively advocates for the removal of the tampon tax and for greater access to comprehensive education surrounding female reproductive health care in hopes of ending period poverty in Jamaica.
HerFlow Foundation’s flagship End Period Poverty Jamaica campaign End has received over six million period products in donations since its founding, and the campaign has expanded to distribute its donations to over 300 schools, government homes, community organizations and clinics. In 2021, HerFlow Foundation partnered with the GrassROOTS Community Foundation to donate 600 menstrual essential kits to three schools in Jamaica, and since then, they have organized various summits to provide further education surrounding women’s menstrual cycles to equip girls with the tools necessary to reach their optimum levels. On March 22, 2022, HerFlow donated over 350,000 menstrual pads to The Nurses Association in Jamaica, effectively enabling the distribution of menstrual products to all 14 parishes around the island.
Access to menstrual products should be regarded as a human necessity, not as a luxury enjoyed by some. Fighting period poverty is no simple task; however, great strides have been made toward combating this serious global health issue, as evidenced by the HerFlow Foundation’s endeavors in Jamaica. Ending the cycle of period poverty requires those in power and leading organizations to empower women across the globe about their reproductive and menstrual health. Although it is remarkable what organizations like the HerFlow Foundation can accomplish, individuals can also make a difference in the progress toward ending period poverty by supporting such organizations and supporting local charities that advocate the provision of menstrual health education and resources.
– Annie Song