SEATTLE, Washington — Period poverty is one of the most prevalent health issues facing women globally. Around the world, around 2.3 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation services, which can make dealing with menstruation difficult. Moreover, in some developing countries, only 27% of the population has access to a facility with water and soap. This makes managing periods a major challenge for women and young girls globally. The stigma that exists around the topic exacerbates this problem and the deficiencies in menstruation supplies. Stigma, taboos and myths resulting from a lack of information about menstruation have led to damaging misconceptions that cause girls to miss out on normal childhood experiences and activities.
The Facts on Menstruation
For many people, getting their period every month is already a burden. Menstruation affects certain groups more than others. Those with special needs and disabilities are disproportionately affected by period poverty. They “do not have access to the facilities and resources they need for proper menstrual hygiene.”
Further exacerbating the problem of period poverty is the fact that “menstruation is stigmatized” globally. Young girls miss out on valuable opportunities and are stopped from reaching their full potential due to the stigma around menstruation. For example, in India, 40% of girls miss school during their period. The spread of misinformation has led to shame and secrecy around the subject of menstruation. In some places, women are prohibited from entering certain areas or participating in day-to-day activities due to the stigma and being seen as “impure.”
This issue is also prevalent in the United States where one in five girls in the U.S. miss school due to not having access to menstrual products. COVID-19 has worsened the existing problem with there now being a large decrease in the physical supply of menstrual products globally. For example, “nearly 76% of women and girls in Kenya do not have access to adequate water and sanitation facilities” during menstruation. This can lead to unhygienic conditions, furthered by the lack of information women have about their own menstrual cycle and how to prepare for it. UNICEF reported that 49% of young girls in Pakistan “have no knowledge of menstruation prior to their first period.”
PERIOD, An Organization Making a Difference
PERIOD is an incredible non-profit organization working to rid the barriers in women’s health regarding period poverty. It has three pillars: education, advocacy and service. Through these three pillars, the organization combats period poverty and furthers menstrual equity. The Borgen Project interviewed Ameer Abdul, the national campaign manager at PERIOD, about the topic of period poverty.
“We work on educating folks on period poverty because if the topic carries so much stigma, we cannot combat it to the degree we hope for. If we cannot have a conversation about something, we simply can’t fix the problem at hand” says Ameer. Breaking down the stigma around menstruation is a part of PERIOD’s education program.
“COVID-19 has exacerbated the issue of period poverty, and due to this, we have received 30 times the number of requests for menstrual products. We are constantly sending products to different communities” Ameer explains. The organization also works on legislation in the United States as well as in its chapters globally. Ameer described, “Fighting against period poverty through legislation is incredibly important to make sure we can have period products be accessible to everyone around the country. Volunteers in each state work to pass legislation with their lawmakers.”
PERIOD’S Work Globally
PERIOD has a network of global volunteers, working to end period poverty around the world. Ameer stated, “We have chapters all across the world. Period poverty is not only something we do here in the [S]tates, but especially around the world. We have a chapter in both Guatemala and Spain.” Volunteers in chapters around the world, such as in Guatemala, talk to Congress about improving menstrual equity across their country and taking measures to break the stigma that surrounds menstruation. PERIOD also provides educational training around menstruation. For example, PERIOD’s chapter in Spain has talked with their congressional officials about including health education and implementing menstrual education in schools.
PERIOD is making strides in solving the issue of period poverty. With the help of this initiative as well as other similar organizations, the world can hopefully improve women’s equity around the globe.
– Arya Baladevigan