Period poverty has people using socks and newspapers as sanitary products amid cost of living crisis

By Charlie Sawyer

Published Mar 21, 2024 at 09:00 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

There are around 1.8 billion people who menstruate every month worldwide. That’s a hella big number. So, why is it that period poverty is one of the biggest global crises facing our society? I’m gonna give it a wild guess, and suggest that maybe it’s because menstruation impacts people that society continues to judge as second-tier.

Welcome back to Explained By a Blonde, a series where I take confusing, and sometimes just straight-up overwhelming topics and very daintily attempt to break them down for all my favourite girls, gays and theys.

Now, we’ve covered everything from fruity and fun topics like how to become a sugar baby and the economic influence of Taylor Swift to slightly more serious and tricky subjects like how to take your landlord to court and the politically charged scam that is the morning after pill. This week, I want to cover an issue that’s both incredibly frustrating and overpoweringly unjust. Despite this, I’m going to muster all of the confidence of a straight white man and tackle it anyway.

Period poverty is no new crisis, it’s existed for decades. However, recent economic strife across the globe has highlighted just how badly things now stand. And with it becoming increasingly evident that access to sanitary products is nowhere near as much of a priority in the world order as it should be, it’s time we address some things.

I’m first going to delve into how period poverty impacts people who menstruate across the globe and then we’ll centre in on the cost of living crisis in the UK and exactly how the conservative government have failed to properly address this epidemic.

Period poverty worldwide

Period poverty can be defined as a lack of access to menstrual products, hygiene facilities, waste management, and education. It is a widespread issue both on a domestic and international level.

@dr.amnahusain

Period products are not a luxury- theyre a neccesity and taxed in some states! Thankfully, a few local and municipal governments have pass bills to require free menstrual products in school restrooms. The momentum to improve menstrual product availability is growing, but taxing them is definitely a form of sex-based discrimination, in my opinion. Theres alot of stigma re: these products and patients are often reluctant to discuss barriers obtaining them 😞

♬ original sound - dr.amnahusain

ActionAid, an international charity that focuses on supporting women and girls globally, shared information that estimates that at least 500 million women and girls globally lack access to the facilities they need to manage their periods. Meanwhile, 1.25 billion women and girls have no access to a safe and private toilet. Moreover, it’s a high likelihood that this figure does not include those who do not identify as a woman or girl but who still menstruate monthly and need somewhere safe to do so.

Period poverty also goes hand in hand with the stigma surrounding menstruation. In India, those who menstruate can often be considered impure and unclean. In fact, during their periods, individuals can even be ostracised from society, exacerbating feelings of shame and unworthiness, as reported by Women in International Security (WIIS).

@blobboxuk

It’s Menstrual Hygiene Day 🩸 Here’s what Blob Box does to help fight period poverty so that no one has to miss out on Education due to Menstruation 💜 #periodtiktok #MHDay2022 #WeAreCommitted #EndPeriodStigma #EndPeriodPoverty #blobboxuk

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One particularly heartbreaking study, conducted in rural western Kenya where 63 per cent of the population lives on less than one dollar, found cases of sexual exploitation whereby women and girls were forced to engage in transactional sex in order to access sanitary pads. New reports have also linked poor air quality and pollution to an increased risk of endometriosis—a disease that can cause severe pain and heavy bleeding during menstruation

Period poverty in the UK

Period poverty in the UK has been greatly worsened due to the current cost of living crisis. In fact, a new ActionAid poll has revealed that 21 per cent of women and people who menstruate in the UK are now struggling to afford period products—up from 12 per cent in just one year. This amounts to an estimated 2.8 million people who are living in period poverty right now.

In 2019, the UK government pledged to end period poverty by 2030. During a speech outlining the campaign, MP Penny Mordaunt stated: “Empowerment starts when you are young. Girls should be able to focus on their education and their future without being worried about or embarrassed by their periods. This is a global issue. Without education, women and girls around the world won’t be able to take the steps to reach their true potential.”

So, why is it that only a few years down the road, hundreds of thousands of young people are still struggling?

In 2022, it was discovered that almost a third of girls and young women in the UK cannot access free period products at their school or college, despite government schemes having been in place for several years, as reported by The Guardian.

@her.drive

STAN SCOTLAND 💓💓 pause to read :)) #periodpoverty #unitedkingdom #periods #periodstigma

♬ Get Into It (Yuh) - Doja Cat

Moreover, the government’s most prominent scheme—a period product plan that provides free period products to pupils who menstruate in their place of study—is due to end in July 2024, a move that’s been highly criticised by charities across the UK.

The Department of Education has not responded to questions about whether it would continue the scheme past summer. BBC’s Newsbeat spoke to 71 organisations, including food banks and women’s centres—all of which hand out thousands of free tampons, pads and reusables each year. Six out of 10 said they’d struggled to keep up with demand for period products in 2023, with more than two-thirds adding that the level of need had increased during 2023 when compared with 2022.

Charities to engage with to help combat period poverty

Girlguiding, the UK’s largest youth organisation dedicated completely to girls, has been a very vocal player in the fight against period poverty. The organisation encourages visitors to its website to sign a pledge regarding how we talk about periods, all in an effort to end the stigma surrounding menstruation.

ActionAid has also been incredibly crucial on the international stage, providing valuable insights about the state of period poverty across the world.

Finally, the Gift Wellness Foundation is an integral charity, specialising in supporting women in crisis by providing non-toxic sanitary pads and helping facilitate fundraisers to combat period poverty.

This is an ongoing crisis that is still not being properly addressed. The combination of a lack of access, education, and empathy has resulted in the suffering of millions of people and until the social stigma surrounding periods is eradicated and proper funding is allocated, that suffering will continue.

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