Period Poverty Project
By Sam Klos
What is Period Poverty?
Period poverty affects over 500 million women and girls worldwide, making up approximately 25% of the world's menstruating population. It is an underrecognized public health crisis characterized by inadequate access to sanitary products, privacy for hygiene management, or education on menstruation. Period poverty affects many menstruating people in all areas of their lives– their mental health and well-being, ability to work, attend school, and general reproductive health. Periods are intensely stigmatized, leaving those who menstruate feeling shame and fear during their periods, especially if they lack basic products or privacy. This stigma impedes open education and knowledge-sharing, a crucial step in overcoming period poverty globally.
UNICEF-UM Period Poverty Project
UNICEF at the University of Michigan is committed to advocating for all women and girls. This year, our Education and Advocacy team created the Period Poverty Project as an International Women’s Day Initiative and for the March UNITE theme: Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene. For one week, each day we released infographics and resources on our social media to raise period poverty awareness for different regions of the world. We covered the Americas, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. To conclude the initiative, our committee partnered with the University of Michigan chapter of GirlUp, a United Nations Foundation Initiative oriented around female empowerment, to present a conversation about period poverty on Instagram Live.
UNICEF is focused on ensuring no child is left behind, orienting their mission around eliminating threats to childhood health and wellbeing– including period poverty. UNICEF works to improve girls’ and women’s menstrual health and hygiene via social support, providing knowledge and skills, creating and maintaining facilities and services, and providing access to absorbent materials and supplies.
In recent years, UNICEF has initiated many campaigns in creating and distributing education packets on menstrual health and hygiene for young girls in areas of displacement. Another significant project is #TheRedDotChallenge, a campaign led by UNICEF India. #TheRedDotChallenge was built to promote safety and hygiene in all aspects of lives – including period management and fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. It encourages people from all walks of life, including celebrities and influencers, to speak up on period poverty through social media.
In Brazil, 6 million women lack 2access to basic sanitary products, and many need costly medical procedures due to consequences of using unsanitary alternatives. Approximatley 25% of schoolchildren miss school during their periods and 4 million girls don’t have adequate access to hygiene products at school.
In Mexico City, the reform to the 2003 Solid Waste Act prohibits tampons with plastic applicators, leaving more than 4 million women without access to the basic sanitary product. In 2019, the poorest households spent up to 8% of their income on these products in 2019, with many forced to choose between those or food.
The United States has 16.9 million people who menstruate living in poverty, and federal assistance programs like WIC and SNAP do not cover sanitary products. Additionally, 68.1% of college-aged women in the U.S. who experienced period poverty had symptoms of moderate-to-severe depression.
Venezuela has no current policy on menstrual health management and hygiene for refugees, on top of extremely high relative prices for products. 1 package of sanitary towels can exceed 25% of a month’s salary in Venezuela, and a single 40-count box of tampons can cost up to three months’ salary.
On Menstrual Health Day in May of 2020, Kenya’s Ministry of Health unveiled the country’s plans to launch the Menstrual Hygiene Strategy and Policy 2019-2024, to promote “an enabling environment for implementation of menstrual hygiene management and interventions in Kenya,” says Health CS Mutahi Kagwe.
Malawians describe a twofold problem of value-added tax (VAT) on top of existing poverty, and inadequate waste disposal systems. Approximately 50.7% of the population lives below the poverty line and the VAT is 16%, exacerbating period poverty for women and girls. Finally, the absence of appropriate waste disposal systems and infrastructure reinforce intense stigma against periods.
In Nigeria, as well as other areas of the world, COVID-19 was especially impactful on menstruating individuals with 25% of Nigerian women lacking privacy for management and 40% of the total population living below the poverty line. The pandemic increased prices and lack of privacy, with lockdowns restricting movement and basic public services offering period support.
In Vietnam, period stigma and underdeveloped sex-education leads to unpopularity of tampon use. There is no national sex education requirement, leaving individual schools with the liberty to decide what to teach. This contributes to the undereducation of women and girls on product options and sexual health.
In China, Juang Jinjing founded the “Stand by Her” campaign to push period poverty to the forefront of the national conversation and combat its ‘invisibility’. The movement has provided sanitary products to 338 schools and colleges across China so far.
50% of schools in Cambodia do not have a stable water supply, and many people cannot afford proper sanitary products. The national poverty line is $0.93 per person, per day, while one pack of pads costs around $3.
Thailand announced in 2021 that tampons, classified as cosmetics, would be subjected to the luxury tax of up to 40%. Facing intense backlash on social media with the hashtag #taxfreepads, the government reversed course and acknowledged that these products were a “necessary everyday product,” showing the importance of representation of women in the legislature.
The Middle East
In Lebanon, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Beirut port explosion, and a dire economy led to one of the top three worst global financial crises. The plummeting economic conditions caused the prices of menstrual products to increase by 500%. For example, one woman will spend 90,000 pounds (USD $60) on pads for one month.
In Israel, only 55% of girls in refugee camps have the proper menstrual products, and only 37% of girls have satisfactory access to underwear. Women are experiencing anxiety associated with periods that have led to a detrimental effect on their education and mental health.
More than 860,000 Syrians live under government siege, lacking basic necessities such as food and menstrual products. 60% of women do not have access to underwear, with many refusing to leave their homes out of shame.
Check out our Instagram Live with GirlUp here: [ADD LINK]
To view our daily infographics on period poverty around the world, see our Instagram.
For general reading and research on period poverty, see:
Menstrual Health & Hygiene for Girls and Women with Disabilities
Donate to the UNFPA