Sarah Hassan | Toronto, Canada
I can still remember the very first time I got my period. I was nearing the end of Grade 6, around 12 years old, and it was a shock. I had been educated thoroughly on what to do, both thanks to my mom and my health teachers, but it was that moment that I realized - hearing about it and experiencing it were two very different things. Since then, I've always taken for granted the access to products I had and the guidance I received along with it, until recently when I was educated on just how bad period poverty really is.
Let's backtrack a little though. What exactly is Period Poverty? The term Period Poverty refers to a circumstance of being unable to afford feminine hygiene products such as pads, tampons, liners and more to manage menstrual cycles and bleeding. In developing nations such as India, 1 in 4 girls will miss school due to the lack of available hygiene products, a stat that I was quite surprised to hear. Not only that, but these girls will often feel ashamed as well and avoid going out due to inadequate access to clean washrooms, hand washing, and proper waste management.
When I first learned all this, I realized just how lucky I've been. But then a more profound truth came to me; access to necessary items such as these must be considered a necessity - not a luxury.
Access to menstrual products is a right, and feeling clean, confident, and capable during one’s period is a necessity. We must all work toward menstrual equity.
The sad truth is that Period Poverty is a largely ignored public health crisis, but that doesn't make it any less important. An item that is crucial to the health and well-being of all females is treated not as a necessity, but quite often actually has a luxury tax attached to it. For this reason, many people who can't afford to buy hygienic products are forced to choose sometimes between feeding their families or buying pads. Quite often, products like old rags, paper towels, or even cardboard are used by menstruators, but these often unhygienic solutions can put people at a higher risk for things such as urine infections, skin irritations, or worse.
This public health crisis can have extremely far reaching consequences. In some countries, girls can be quite often pulled out of school once they have reached puberty to get married or because it is considered shameful to leave the house if they are "unclean." As well, a lack of knowledge and access to clean products can take an emotional toll, leading to poor mental health and higher depression and anxiety.
The sad truth of the matter glaring everyone in the face is that one of the only reasons people do not hear much of this issue is due to the immense stigma surrounding it. This stigma dictates that a woman's period is something unclean or wrong to talk about openly, and it is often associated with disgust, shaming, or embarrassment, when in fact it should be recognized for what it truly is - a natural and rewarding biological process. The shame surrounding a woman's period effectively stops people from talking about it, which in turn puts a stop to important conversations such as easy and cheap access to hygiene products, or even simply talking about it openly in your family without fear of consequences such as banishment from your home during this time, a tactic that was employed in Nepal until 2005 and still continues today sometimes.
Women and young girls who menstruate are ostracized from basic activities, like eating certain foods, or socializing, all over the world. The cultural shame attached to menstruation and a shortage of resources stop women from going to school and working every day.
Although it is 2020, the health crisis of Period Poverty is something that does not show signs of going away soon, however, the good news is that we can and must all work together for menstrual equity. There are many ways to help the cause, including donating to organizations such as FemCare, or advocating for free hygienic products in schools, or even spreading awareness on social media. Every action has an effect, and the only way that Period Poverty can be resolved is if products and resources become more easily accessible and affordable. It's time to turn the crimson tide.
Nearly 1 in 5 American Girls Have Missed School Due to Lack of Period Protection: Always® Joins Forces with Gina Rodriguez & Feeding America® to Help #EndPeriodPoverty and Keep Girls in School | P&G News | Events, Multimedia, Public Relations.
“Period Poverty as a Public Health Crisis.” U, sph.umich.edu/pursuit/2020posts/period-poverty.html.
“Period Poverty in Canada and around the Globe.” Canadian Public Health Association | Association Canadienne De Santé Publique, 25 June 2019, www.cpha.ca/period-poverty-canada-and-around-globe.