By Apolline Pedretti, Year 12
Period poverty is defined as the lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints. According to UNICEF, more than 500 million women around the world do not have adequate resources to deal with their periods. In the UK, the world’s fifth largest economy, 1 in 10 women cannot afford sanitary pads or tampons.
It is not only happening in remote and poor places. Period poverty is a worldwide phenomenon; it is happening everywhere and affects the quality of life, education, and health of millions of women and girls around the world.
When we think of poverty, the first images that come to our mind often include inadequate access to food or housing. We often forget about the choices many people have to make when they are forced to choose between eating enough or buying hygiene essentials.
Sanitary products are items that have to be foregone by women and young girls living in poverty. Instead, many women have to resort to using toilet paper, old scraps of fabric, or nothing at all. The Ken Loach Film “I, Daniel Blake”, featuring the scene of a struggling mother caught stealing sanitary pads, sent awareness of this particular struggle and hit public consciousness.
The average woman has around 450 periods in her lifetime. That is an estimated £4,800 spend on sanitary pads alone. Menstrual protections are not cheap but they are a necessity for every woman. Many people object to this by asking “Surely a packet of tampons isn’t that expensive”. While these products can appear to be cheap for us, not all of them are suitable and accessible to everyone. In Sri Lanka, the cost of menstrual health management can be equal to the amount that the average household would spend on a two-month supply of rice. In Africa, 1 in 10 girls is having their education interrupted because of their periods, as they cannot afford period products.
Furthermore, many cultural and social pressures exist around menstruation which makes it even more difficult for young girls to ask for help when they need it. Young girls from poorer socio-economic backgrounds are often too guilty to ask their parents, who already struggle to meet their family’s needs with food, for sanitary items.
There is progress on the way. In France and the UK, taxes are significantly being reduced. However, in Switzerland, sanitary protections are not considered as necessities and still have a tax of 8%. In February, the National Council rejected a proposition to lower the tax on tampons and pads to 2.5%.
Period poverty is not just a facet of poverty. It is a reflection of the society we live in, full of gender inequalities. It disempowers and affects the access to education and opportunity of girls around the world.
What can you do?
Sign a petition
Many petitions already exist, with the goal of introducing access to free sanitary products in schools and other places.
- #FreePeriods – Petition for Free Sanitary Products for Girls on Free School Meals in the UK
- #PaieTesRègles – Des protections périodiques gratuites pour les personnes les plus précaires en France
Half of the population experiences menstruation yet girls from a young age are taught to be ashamed of them. The taboo that exists around this topic makes it even more difficult for young girls to seek help. Talking more about these issues can help women feel more comfortable to ask for help, explore options and get access to information they need.
Often, when donating items, we forget the essentials. Period supplies are one of the most requested products in food banks but are often the least donated. Your contribution can be as simple as donating packs of tampons or pads to your nearby food bank.