SEATTLE, Washington — Period poverty occurs when women and girls are unable to afford sanitary products, like pads and tampons, and do not have access to proper sanitation and hygiene facilities during their menstruation period. According to The World Bank (WHO), at least 500 million females globally lack facilities for menstrual hygiene management. The effects of period poverty are that girls and women miss school and work due to lack of sanitary products and hygiene facilities as well as the shame and stigma around menstruating. Period poverty also poses potential health risks. The United Nations has recognized menstrual hygiene as a global health and human rights issue, yet period poverty is still a reality for girls and women in many developing countries. Organizations and individuals have stepped up to tackle the issue of period poverty with low-cost, sustainable period poverty solutions and efforts to end the stigma surrounding menstruation.
Innovative Period Poverty Solutions
- Flo: Designed by Mariko Higaki Iwai, Flo is a comprehensive menstrual kit for women. Having access to sanitary products is one thing, but making sure women are able to access them for life is where Flo comes in. According to the project, Only 10% of women globally are able to afford disposable sanitary products, the rest are using rags. This product is a sustainable alternative, containing reusable pads, a wearable carry pouch and an innovative device for easily washing and drying the pads. While the product is still in its design phase, Flo has the potential of changing the lives of women across the globe with its affordability and innovation.
- Noble Cup: On average there are 30 million menstruating women in Ethiopia but almost 75% of those women experience period poverty. Enter Noble Cup, the menstrual cup created by the nonprofit organization Every Queen Bleeds. The menstrual cups are safe, sanitary and durable. Noble Cup can last up to 10 years and can be used in places with limited access to water or sanitation. Since the cup’s release in 2018, it is already being sold in 10 to 13 stores across Ethiopia. Along with the menstrual cup, Every Queen Bleeds also provides period education to help women and girls use their products and to end the stigma around periods. This education is especially important because of the high rates of female genital mutilation in Ethiopia that cause women to feel especially “isolated and stigmatized” during their periods.
- Thinx: Period-proof underwear is ending the need for disposable menstrual products. Thinx is a company that creates underwear that can absorb more than regular pads and tampons. With reusable period-proof underwear, monthly disposable sanitary products are unnecessary, thus saving costs. While the company itself currently operates in the United States, period-proof underwear is an exciting innovation that could contribute toward the solution for addressing period poverty globally.
- “Menstrual Man”: Arunachalam Muruganantham, also known as India’s “Menstrual Man”, invented a low-cost machine to create sanitary pads. After watching his wife suffer due to inadequate access to menstrual hygiene products, Muruganantham created a machine to produce sanitary pads for substantially less money than imported technology. As of December 2017, he has sold over 1700 machines to 27 states in India and plans to sell the machines to other developing nations. In 2014, Muruganantham was included in TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list and a movie based on his life was made in 2018.
- Comic Books: In Indonesia, UNICEF developed comic books for both girls and boys. The purpose of the comic books is to educate boys about menstruation so that they stop making fun of their female classmates for getting their periods. The comic books serve a second use as well because it educates girls about their periods, with information such as instructions on how to use a pad and debunking common period myths. The comic book strategy ended up being wildly successful at reducing the stigma around menstruation. Girls felt less ashamed of their periods and boys gained empathy and understanding for their female classmates. A survey given to students in Bandung, Indonesia, showed that after reading the comic book, 95% of boys felt that bullying girls about their periods is wrong.
With sustainable and affordable solutions such as these, a future where period poverty is nonexistent does not seem so far out of reach. However, ending period poverty means more than just affordable sanitary products. It will also take community-wide changes to end the stigma around menstruation. With continued commitment, global period poverty can be conquered once and for all.
– Hannah Daniel