1. We're all afraid to talk about it.
There are over 5,000 euphemisms for menstruation worldwide. The stigma of not being able to access menstrual products can be magnified by embarrassment to talk openly about periods.
2. Girls aren’t getting education about how to manage their period.
In some cultures the fact that menstruation is a part of reproduction makes it a taboo topic. Even in the UK menstruation is typically only covered in a biology context and often girls are separated from boys in this class. This reinforces the idea that it’s a shameful topic.
3. Getting your first period can be confusing and scary.
Not getting the right information about menstruation can mean girls aren’t prepared for their first period. Many feel too embarrassed to confide in others and struggle with the experience alone.
4. Women feel embarrassed about being on their period.
Negative attitudes towards menstruation continue onto adulthood. 58% of women in a recent survey in America stated they have felt embarrassed being on their period.
5. Period poverty affects many in developed countries as well as in the Global South.
Menstrual products are expensive and high tax rates can make them even more difficult to afford. In the UK a recorded figure of 5,900 women were collecting menstrual products from charities, food banks and shelters each month, with actual figures likely to be higher. In Scotland, where a pilot to provide products to those in need was launched last July, one in five women said they have experienced period poverty.
6. Period poverty means girls miss school.
An estimated one in ten girls in sub-Saharan Africa have missed school during their period. Unsuitable toilet facilities, not having access to menstrual products and enduring menstrual pain can cause girls to miss class. Discomfort due to over-soaked menstrual products, and fear about others noticing menstrual stains on clothing can also impact girl’s concentration and performance levels in class. In Kenya and Uganda some girls are even pressured into sex in return for sanitary products. In the UK over 137,700 girls missed school last year because they couldn’t afford menstrual products.
7. Many make do with unsuitable materials when they can’t afford menstrual products.
Alternative materials include leaves, toilet paper, socks and rags. Some women take their contraceptive pill back-to-back to skip bleeding, or resort to changing their tampons or sanitary pads less frequently. Not changing products when needed may cause urogenital infections or, in more serious cases, toxic shock syndrome.
8. Period poverty affects many people.
Being able to afford enough menstrual products can be difficult when you are from a low-income family, experiencing homelessness or coercive control in a relationship with domestic violence. Transgender men can also get periods.
9. Period poverty is a human rights matter.
Period poverty impacts the rights to education, health and dignity. It’s an issue of gender equality that can’t be solved with providing menstrual products and better toilet and hygiene facilities alone. Education and a choice of economical and environmentally friendly menstrual products are also important.
10. There’s a global day to address the issue.
Menstrual Health Day on May 28th is a day to raise awareness of the importance of managing periods with dignity, with events held around the world on this topic, this year under the theme of ‘No More Limits’.
Nicola has a Master’s in Human Rights and International Politics from Glasgow University and wrote her dissertation on the impact of period poverty on women’s rights in the UK. She is currently doing European Voluntary Service in the Czech Republic with a gender equality organisation.