Period Poverty: Breaking the shame

Period poverty means lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand washing facilities, and, waste management. It affects people globally, and women living in poverty are vulnerable. More than 800 million people, across the globe, menstruate daily yet, 2.3 million people live without basic sanitation services. In developing countries less than 30% of people have adequate hand washing facilities at home. As a result, it is difficult for women and young girls to manage their periods safely. Menstruation is stigmatized around the world especially in south-Asia. According to UNICEF, poor menstrual hygiene exhibits physical health risks and has been linked to reproductive morbidities. Moreover, it stops women from reaching their full potential due to miss opportunities crucial to their growth. Young girls who do not receive any education are more likely to enter marriages at early age and experience; early pregnancy, domestic violence, undernourishment and pregnancy complications. Period shame has diverse negative mental effects as well. It dis-empowers women, causing them to feel embarrassed about a normal biological process. As a result, women and young girls suffer from a sense of inferiority adding to their mental burden. The cultural shame attached to this natural process and poor access/shortage of resources stop women from working and going to school and every day. Furthermore, most of the chronic reproductive morbidities are associated with poor sanitary hygiene. This has diverse implications as chronic reproductive diseases indicate a continuous expenditure on health which disturbs the financial discipline of the family.

Ending the tax worldwide makes period products affordable — too many people cannot pay for them at all and are usually torn between purchasing food or menstrual supplies thus leading to a financial catastrophe. Although some countries around the world have lifted the tax on period products as luxury items, others continue to use it. The Indian ministry of health reported that only 12% of menstruates have access to sanitary products, leaving the rest to use unsafe materials like rags and sawdust as an alternative, A study conducted in rural context explored the existing practices on menstrual hygiene management of the girls and women and its determining factors. It was reported that around 90% of the adolescent girls use unhygienic cloths during menstruation. A similar study in urban context reported the most common practices during Menstruation included the use of old cloth among 86% due to affordability. Global data suggests that rural areas have better access to basic sanitary hygiene than urban areas with disproportionate access to health in general. Living in conflict-affected areas like Kashmir also makes it even more difficult for women and girls to manage their periods. Most of these women are ostracized from basic activities; like socializing, eating certain foods and going to school leading to absenteeism. On the other hand, girls with special needs and disabilities do not have access to the facilities and resources, they need for proper menstrual hygiene.

The solution lies in ‘Menstrual education’ across the community and its inclusion in the school curriculum. Sensitizing children at early age regarding the issues gender, sexual and reproductive health and the rights associated with them, has proven exceptionally beneficial. Promoting menstrual equity i.e. access to sanitary products, proper toilets, hand washing facilities, sanitation and hygiene education, and waste management for people around the world; is key to supporting women and young girls. Young boys benefit from menstrual hygiene education, too. Educating girls and boys on menstruation at an early age at home and school promotes healthy habits and breaks stigmas around the natural process as well.

Ateeb Ahmad Parray is Tropical Diseases Research Fellow , World Health Organization