How to bring an end to Period Poverty

Imagine not having access to clean, running water while on your period; or a safe sanitised place to change your pad or tampon or to empty your menstrual cup. For 500 million menstruators around the world, this is their reality every single month according to a report by UNICEF.

Today, we expand on the topic of period poverty as well as menstruation rights which was our featured key term of the week. Menstruation rights refers to the right to access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand washing facilities and, or, waste management. For most of us, these are things that we don’t have to think twice about when menstruating, but for the majority of menstruators around the world they’re a privilege and only something they can dream of.

Menstruation rights are intrinsically linked to human rights, making a lack of menstruation rights a human rights violation. According to World Vision.org menstruation rights are also “connected to the right to non-discrimination, to health and healthy environment, education and work.”

Aside from little to no access to resources, which we’ll get into a little further on, the biggest drivers for the lack of menstruation rights is the shame, stigma and ignorance surrounding menstruation, the menstruators body and health. The shame and taboo nature of menstruation has created insurmountable damage for centuries, impacting those living in extreme poverty the most. In many cultures like in Nepal, menstruators are shunned when they have their period and are forced to stay in a hut alone until it ends. This is called chaupadi and is a traditional practice which takes place because they believe menstruating is unclean.

In a study conducted by UNICEF, it was found that 48% of girls in Iran and 10% in India believe that menstruation is a disease. 1 in 10 girls in Africa miss school when on their period, and in a 2018 study conducted by South African NGO WoMena it was found that some schoolgirls in Kenya see no other option but to engage in transactional sex so they’re able to afford menstrual products.

As if the stigma and myths surrounding menstruation aren’t contributing enough to period poverty and the global lack in menstruation rights, the non-existence and scarcity of basic resources advances it even further.  Menstruators that are directly affected are forced to use leaves, cloth, rags, newspaper or anything they can find that will absorb or catch the blood. Some menstruators aren’t even able to wash because of no access to clean running water which can heavily impact their health according to World Vision.org, “the right to health is also at risk, as women using unclean cloths without the ability to wash are at greater risk of developing infections”.

A large part of the problem is that globally the majority of policy and lawmakers are male. Many of them aren’t educated about the basics of menstruation, let alone the sexual and reproductive health and needs of menstruators. So the topic of menstruation rights and period poverty isn’t even something that’s on their radar!

As the conversation around menstrual health, rights, taboos and education has increased in recent years so too have initiatives and organisations who aim to end period poverty and make menstrual rights a reality for all menstruators. With campaigns to remove tax on period products which was achieved in a number of countries including South Africa and India, as well as Scotland being the first country to make period products free, and New Zealand providing free sanitary products in schools, it’s evident that a few policy and lawmakers are slowly beginning to understand that menstruation is not a choice.

Thankfully it’s not all doom and gloom! If you want to make a change or get involved a good starting point is to just begin having a conversation around these myths and taboos. We need to encourage more conversation around menstruation, not just among menstruators but among those who don’t menstruate either.

You can also get involved with a local organisation like The Cora Project, QRATE or The Siyasizana Foundation who are advocating for menstruation rights. You can also donate pads or tampons to your nearby homeless shelter or shelter for women or girls. At Sheba, menstruation rights and ending period poverty is part of our core mission. With our Pay for a Pal’s Pads campaign we subsidise our pads so they can be purchased for R35.00 on our website. The pads are then donated to various schools in the Western and Eastern Cape. We’ve donated hundreds of pads, been able to change a number of young girls lives, the way they view their bodies and menstruation all thanks to our superstar donators.