TACOMA, Washington — Period poverty is defined as having little to no access to menstrual products, menstrual hygiene education, sanitary facilities and waste management. Before the immense effects of COVID-19 on developing nations, approximately 500 million women experienced this issue monthly. Globally, approximately one in 10 women cannot afford the appropriate sanitary materials; this leaves 12% of women to improvise with often unsafe and unhygienic objects. In countries with especially limited menstrual education and products, women are left without proper resources and aid. On average, women menstruate for what amounts to 10 years of their lives. The Tampon Tax, the limited product on hand along with varying cultural stigmas regarding menstruation have left millions of women lacking the resources they need.
The Dangers of Period Poverty
UNICEF conducted a report that found that the majority of countries in South Asia do not meet the World Health Organization’s sanitation criteria. For example, WHO calls for the standard of “one toilet for every 25 girls. In one district in Nepal, 170 girls shared only one toilet. In India, only 12% of the menstruating population have access to sanitary products, according to the Indian Ministry of Health. The remaining 98% use “materials like rags and sawdust” to soak up blood flow. One of the many consequences of period poverty is that women and children miss school and work. This leaves women and girls across the world lagging behind their male peers.
In addition to poor menstrual hygiene, women are being put in the position to practice transactional sex for money in order to buy themselves appropriate menstrual products. Such drastic measures often lead to infection or diseases. In the least developed countries, only 27% of people have a reliable handwashing facility, making sanitation management a major challenge during menstruation.
Period Poverty During COVID-19
Plan International U.K. is a global charity working with children in developing nations to ensure access to education, healthcare, sanitary water and opportunity. It researched the impact of COVID-19 on period poverty. Plan International found that 73% of health professionals in 30 surveyed countries said that COVID-19 reduced “access to products through shortages or disrupted supply chains.” As stores and public transportation close during quarantine and lock-down, access to menstrual products is even less available.
As poverty during the pandemic increases, accessibility to healthcare facilities and hygiene products decreases. Additionally, preventing sickness such as coronavirus requires a similar protocol to managing a period. Because Covid-19 has already caused shortages of soaps, toilet paper and cleaning materials, menstrual hygiene is even more pressing of an issue. Moreover, in some cultures, women are sent into “menstrual huts” over the course of their menstruation cycles. These huts are not large enough to practice social distancing, nor are they equipped with sanitary water or bathrooms.
What is Being Done to Help?
The United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) is working with other non-governmental organizations, such as ActionAid, Bloody Good Period and U.K. Plan International, to end period poverty. In times of humanitarian crisis, UNPF sends dignity kits to women. These kits include soap, underwear and reusable menstrual hygiene products. For example, in 2017, The UNPF distributed 484,000 dignity kits in 18 countries. Additionally, it teaches women how to make sanitary reusable pads as well as implement programs to educate women in impoverished countries about their menstrual cycles.
Similarly, ActionAid works to empower women in developing nations by training them to prepare for disasters and crises. Since the coronavirus outbreak, ActionAid has reached five million people in 40 different countries. It distributes food packaged as well as funds women’s shelters.
With the help of these organizations, women are able to access more materials and sanitary products. They are also receiving education about their menstrual cycles. For more ways to help fight period poverty, go to The United Nations Population Fund or ActionAid’s website to donate or volunteer.