“Periods don’t stop for a pandemic […],” says the chief executive of Plan International UK. “[…] the coronavirus crisis is making it harder for girls and young women to manage their periods safely and with dignity.” Currently, one in 10 girls in the UK are unable to afford sanitary products. This issue will likely worsen because following the pandemic, prices of products have increased by 58%. Period poverty prevails in many countries and the global class divide continues to fail the most vulnerable people.
Period poverty: what is it?
4800 pounds. That is the estimated amount of money an average person who menstruates spends across their lifetime on sanitary products. For someone with a family to feed, bills to pay and school uniforms to buy, spending £2 or £3 on a pack of pads from the local supermarket is often not possible. This issue deprives millions of people of their dignity. Being faced with deciding between providing food for their family or their menstrual health, people affected by period poverty are forced to resort to self made alternatives. While some countries are taking action, in many countries the problem of period poverty is still frequently dismissed, perhaps in part because of a lack of awareness about the devastating impacts period poverty really has.
Equal opportunities? Not for everyone.
For centuries, millions of people have been continuously fighting for women’s rights, regardless of if it entailed risking their lives. On the third of August 1832, for example, the first women’s suffrage petition was presented to the UK parliament. These brave women worked so incredibly hard to provide next generations with new and exciting opportunities to explore; however, due to period poverty many people unfortunately miss out on them.
“two thirds of teens reported stress as a result of limited access to menstrual supplies,” in addition to causing “feelings of shame and self’s consciousness” as well as anxiety and embarrassment.”
It is estimated that 137,700 children in the UK missed school over the course of only one year. Shame and constant fear of judgment kept them home and made them fall irrefutably behind. These young individuals are being failed by the leaders of their countries who should ensure that no one’s education suffers from something they have absolutely no choice or power over. School is not the only opportunity people who menstruate miss out on, they also miss out on work and extracurricular activities such as sport. On top of that, period poverty has a tremendous impact on the mental health of the people it affects.
The physical and psychological pain of period poverty
68.1% of American university students who experience period poverty every month, had symptoms of moderate to severe depression according to Cardossa et al. This number is probably only the tip of the iceberg, as the impact of period poverty on mental health does not end here. A recent study by Period and Thinx showed that “two thirds of teens reported stress as a result of limited access to menstrual supplies.” They also strugged with “feelings of shame and self’s consciousness” as well as anxiety and embarrassment. Similarly, paediatrician Dr. Annie Andrews found that period poverty can increase isolation and anxiety.
She also said that “when parents are concerned about affording essential items, including menstrual products, this stress and anxiety can also be felt by their children.” To avoid putting pressure on their parents, teenagers living in poverty limit their social activities and interactions which is potentially dangerous as research shows that loneliness is associated with increased risk of suicide.
“Actions as simple as helping out a friend in need or making a small donation to sponsor young girls, women and people who menstruate can make the difference”
Period poverty is also an added stressor to the mental health of transgender and gender-nonconforming people. Not only because of prevalent and inaccurate societal views that only women menstruate, trans individuals are also “[…] more than twice as likely to live in poverty” according to the National Centre for Transgender Equality. This means trying to access and afford high costing period supplies is made even more difficult. Transgender men and gender-nonconforming people affected by period poverty can face both physical and psychological pain during their periods. Transgender model and activist Kenny Ethan bravely shared his experience in an article by NBCnews: ”I felt isolated; everything about periods was tailored to girls, yet me, a boy, was experiencing this and nothing in the world documented that.”
Make a difference: ending period poverty
Since policy makers and political leaders are not taking sufficient action on an issue that cannot wait, it is up to us to come together, to use our voices and to make a change. Actions as simple as helping out a friend in need or making a small donation to sponsor young girls, women and people who menstruate can make the difference. Several organisations, big and small, have stepped in where governments are failing. Actionaid, for example, works to eradicate period poverty around the world. Read more here on how a donation can help end period poverty.