In its simplest form, poverty is described as not having sufficient funds to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Coupled with society’s traditional concept of poverty is a paradox known as period poverty. Like traditional poverty that marks individuals—and our larger community—with limited opportunities, period poverty can restrict access to school, employment, recreation, and medical care. Period poverty is simply described as the inability to afford, or the lack of access to, menstrual products and associated hygiene.
Breaking through the barriers and addressing the matter of period poverty remains plagued by one major fact: menstruation remains taboo.
When it comes to feminine hygiene products, we largely speak in hushed tones as though some sort of shame is associated with having a period. Add to this the embarrassment connected to poverty—even if intermittent—the discussion about period poverty is largely unheard.
Period poverty came into the spotlight during the COVID-19 pandemic when consumers stockpiled supplies including toilet paper, paper towels, tampons, and pads. Many retailers reported supply shortages as panic set in around the world. As the pandemic roared its way into our existence, schools and community centers closed. For many, they lost access to basic necessities including menstrual products. One national charity reported that in March 2020, as the pandemic was in full force, they provided over 900,000 menstrual products, versus 200,000 in March of the previous year.
Why is Period Poverty Overlooked?
Shame runs rampant in the realm of menstruation. If it weren’t for ramifications it wouldn’t hurt to remain quiet. But shame is impacting millions. Shame prevents people from talking about it. Shame prevents people from seeking assistance for access to supplies. Shame prevents governments from addressing the issues of taxing products. Shame even prevents discussion about Dioxin, the toxic compound found in hygiene products.
By the Numbers
This shame surrounding menstruation prevents people from talking about the impacts of period poverty:
- 500 million people worldwide lack access to menstrual products and facilities
- 14.2% of menstruating college students experienced period poverty in the past year
- 10% of those students experience period poverty on a monthly basis
- Tax ranges up to 10% on period products
- The average individual requires $6000 worth of period hygiene products in their lifetime
Despite the growing awareness, period poverty isn’t a new phenomenon. Low-income earners have long suffered in silence, getting by with rags, facecloths, toilet paper, and other similar products, unable to afford the cost of hygiene supplies. In correlation with the improper materials used during menstruation because of period poverty, health concerns range from skin irritation to serious infections requiring medical care.
Period poverty is a social and public health crisis.
In a study from St. Louis University, researchers found that 46% of those surveyed needed to decide between food and menstrual products within the previous year, and 36% of those employed missed work at least once a month because of their period.
Considering that approximately half the population menstruates, this is no small problem.
Make a Difference
During a Queen’s City news story in Charlotte, N.C., one student described her own struggle with period poverty: “It’s a little scary, honestly. You never know if you’re going to bleed through in class, and you need to walk all the way to the nurse’s office to get a pad.” No one should be in a position to worry about their period and whether they will have the needed products.
We can all help bring about change, and it often starts in the home. The easiest way to start change is to talk about it. A period is nothing to be embarrassed about. Letting children know that periods are completely natural and normal, not shameful or dirty, contributes to a healthy self-image. When a teen knows they can speak openly about their bodies without shame, it becomes easier to ask for support when needed regardless of age.
Don’t shy away from discussions around period poverty. Confidently raise the matter in your workplace, possibly through a health and safety committee, and encourage the availability of products in washrooms for staff and customers or clients.
Of course, you can always donate products to your nearest shelter or local food bank which will distribute the items to individuals in need of supplies so they don’t have to decide between food or hygiene supplies.
Organizations like Michigan-based Helping Women Period reach into their communities to help with period products, and they agree, “The lack of access to menstrual health products for people who are either homeless or low-income is appalling. These necessary products are not covered by SNAP or any other welfare program. Each month, this leaves countless people without the products many of us take for granted.” Helping Women Period has seven drop-off locations and collects monetary donations online.
Groups across the country, including Greenville, SC, based The Period Project, have helped change lives through their focused period product campaigns. Collection efforts can include the traditional offline donation drive or streamlined online drives. At Roonga, we provide tools for streamlining in-kind collections – including bulk purchasing, online donation drives, and personalized adopt-a-family programs. We have worked with organizations to provide safe, quality feminine hygiene products through our online donation drives.