Updated: Jun 18, 2022
What is Period Poverty?
Period poverty affects menstruators - who are predominantly women - all over the world. It refers to the lack of ability to afford menstrual products, like pads and tampons and includes limited access to clean water and sanitation, pain medication, and toilet paper.
It also refers to lack of education about periods and menstrual cycles, which can increase stigma and feelings of shame and embarrassment about menstruation. This occurs not only in the Global South, but the Global North as well.
Difficulty affording menstrual products leads many young girls to miss days of school, creating large disparities in women’s economic empowerment and future opportunities.
Period poverty is a serious global crisis that, unless solved, will continue to impact future generations.
The Impact of Period Poverty
A 2019 survey conducted by Plan International Canada revealed the depth of the issue in Canada. For example, they found that approximately 1 in 4 women have occasionally or often had to sacrifice something in their budget to afford menstrual products.
The survey also showed that more than half of Canadian girls and women have had to miss out on an activity or extracurricular due to concerns about access to period products or proper facilities.
Another startling statistic is that one in three women have been occasionally teased by a male in their life about having their period. While women and girls face stigmatization about their periods, gender-diverse individuals face additional barriers around managing their menstrual health, including threats to their safety.
Plan International Canada’s survey sheds light on the many struggles that women go through during the natural process of menstruation. Period poverty disrupts employment and education commitments, interfering with gender equity and contributing to gender-based poverty. In Canada, and in much of the rest of the world, rural and marginalized populations face the greatest obstacles to menstrual hygiene.
In a lifetime, menstruators in Canada will pay approximately $6000 for period products, creating a financial burden on women. The cost is almost double for those in remote and rural areas of Canada. Even though Canada removed the tax on period products in 2015, the cost is still high, especially for those of lower socioeconomic status.
Call to Action
With increased advocacy surrounding period poverty during the last few years, menstrual hygiene has appeared on the agenda of education and human rights leaders, and global development specialists.
Menstrual Hygiene Day is celebrated annually on May 28th. The day was created to advocate for improved menstrual equity through increasing education about the menstrual cycle in order to lessen stigma, challenge social norms, and engage political decision-makers at all levels of government in discussion on the best course of action to decrease period poverty.
Eliminating period poverty is crucial if we are to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. While not a stand-alone goal, eliminating period poverty relates to good health (SDG 4), improving gender equality (SDG 5), increased inclusive and sustained economic growth (SDG 8) and many more.
No one should be held back because they menstruate. Tackling period poverty will help to close the gender gap, and create an inclusive environment for menstruators everywhere.