Period poverty: between stigma and crisis

By Abbas Souleyman

GOMBAK, 1 July 2022: Some of us are unaware of problems that exist in our society. There are issues that make the victims cry, depressed, gloomy, downcast, and unhappy. And to add salt to the wound, the issues worsen when neglected by the authorities who showed less interest in them.

One of these important issues is period poverty. A sensitive topic yet affecting women everywhere. It is perceived as taboo to some and remains unknown to others despite the crisis that it puts to thousands of girls and women during their menstruation.

According to the article “What to know about period poverty” in MedicalNewsToday (2022), period poverty refers to the lack of access to menstrual products, hygiene facilities, waste management, and education. It is mainly about women and girls who cannot afford to buy menstrual products mainly due to their low income.

Poverty really affects people. Everyone probably knows what it feels like when you cannot afford something you really want sometimes. But poverty is not the same thing. Poverty is when people live without the basic things they need like food, water, home, and hygiene products that would help manage women’s menstruation among others.

I will be honest with you, the first time I heard about period poverty was just a couple of months ago. I was not aware of it and knew nothing about it. But when I googled and read some articles about it, I got shocked, concerned, and felt sorry for the women who cannot afford to have basic menstrual hygiene products that most of us may take for granted.

Let us sit in the position of some women and imagine that we cannot routinely go to school and a workplace or even to participate in any public gathering because we are concerned about our menstruation and our inability to manage it.

This is exactly what is happening, girls cannot go to school and women cannot go to work. They are not able to participate in any gathering or activity all due to their monthly menstrual cycles.

Now, allow the figures and numbers speak about the reality and show us how this issue is really affecting women.

Even in the developed country like the UK, one in every seven girls (15 per cent) has struggled to purchase sanitary wear and one in every seven girls (14 per cent) has to borrow sanitary pad from a friend due to financial constraints, as reported by Plan International Survey (2017).

Let us fly together to a South Asian country, Bangladesh. A study entitled “Period poverty impact on the economic empowerment of women” showed that 73 per cent of women missed work for an average of 6 days a month. But fortunately, later the problem recovered when BSR, an organisation that described itself as impact driven and sustainable, coordinated the HERproject to address the period poverty issues amongst other issues affecting low-income women in several countries including Bangladesh.

Kenya is lso facing the similar situation. In 2018, UNICEF discovered that 7 per cent of women and girls relied on old clothes, blanket scraps, poultry feathers, mud, and newspapers to manage their menstruations. However, 46 per cent used disposable pads, whereas 6 per cent used reusable pads.

This did not end there as many other studies have shown that period poverty affects women and girls as it is an obstacle for them to attend school, the workplace, and public gatherings which forces some of them to go through stress and depression.

Undoubtedly, period poverty is a real crisis in high-, low- and middle-income countries and it exists everywhere and anywhere. Despite how advanced the technology has become, the basic issue like period poverty has not come to an end. It continues to haunt millions of women around the globe and unfortunately this problem has been swept under the carpet as it is perceived unimportant to some and irrelevent to highlight.

Honestly, I hesitated and thought twice before writing this sensitive topic. Since this dilemma still exists which affects our sisters, I believe concerted action needs to be taken by the authority. The efforts should be geared towards improving the management of menstrual hygiene in a way that will enhance women’s physical health through financial supports to buy menstrual products and free access to hygiene facilities.

I do not support the normalisation of discussing this issue openly by everyone as it is a private matter for women. Rather, I would like this issue to be known and solved by those who hold a specific power to be in charge of this and by anyone who could contribute to fight this problem. I would like the government and world leaders to take action and pledge to end this problem.

No doubt, many of the developed and developing countries have tried addressing this issue and have worked hard to protect women and girls.

But sadly, all my concerns go to the women who live in the less developed countries facing difficulties in meeting their menstrual needs, thus, affecting their quality of life. This is why this problem needs more attention.

Well-planned projects could be the solutions for better menstrual hygiene. With the right initiatives, projects, programs, and attention by the government, this problem will be alleviated and solved. ***

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