Global Period Poverty


Credit to Respective Artist

Ahlina Smart, Columnist

Since the beginning of time, women have had to conduct themselves accordingly due to an inevitable force of nature: menstruation. The distribution of the feminine products that were meant to protect and help control the inevitable flow has not been globally sufficient, causing “period poverty.” Which is defined as the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, handwashing facilities, including waste management, as stated by Global Citizen.

Poor menstrual hygiene may be devastating and even fatal. It is attached to the increase of cervical cancer and many infections in India and other developing countries. But period poverty is not a newly discovered issue. This has been a continuing and increasing concern that has repeatedly occurred throughout history, which is exactly why it needs to be stopped. Around 132,000 new cases of cervical cancer and 74,000 deaths annually are accounted for in India alone.

Young girls and women around the globe are being deprived of a basic hygienical need, furthermore, feminine products have become an industry that is making a ridiculous amount of money. The global feminine hygiene products market industry had made $31.23 billion just in 2017. Continuing that rate of sales, the business is expected to increase to $62.84 billion by 2026.  Meanwhile, 2.3 million people are living without “basic sanitation services”, from low-income women to those who simply do not have access to products. 

Menstrual hygiene is a public health, gender equality, and human rights issue that demands action. The cause was declared by the United Nations as “inspiring waves of global activism and innovation.” And initiative has been taken, a successful No Tax On Tampons Campaign, in Canada, eliminated the Nation Goods & Services Tax on tampons, pads, and menstrual cups as of July 1st. Activists in the UK and Australia are pressuring their government to do the same as well. Other movements like the Girls Helping Girls period campaign in New Jersey are heightening and #JustATampon originated in England and eventually went viral. Public actions like these have raised awareness around the unfair taxes and the need for wider availability of period products.

Concurrently, both of the California State Legislatures voted to exempt tampons from taxation in June 2016. Nevertheless, the bill was vetoed by the state governor, Jerry Brown, three months later. It is crucial that lawmakers consider how period taxes affect people who do not have the financial income to support themselves, from struggling to pay rent and put food on the table, to being on welfare receiving food stamps, and even being homeless on the streets. 

In developed countries like America low income and incarcerated women face almost the exact same health risks of being diagnosed with cervical cancer as women in India because they cannot afford or have access to hygienical products. For instance, the media has reported that women have been known to trade food stamps for a simple tampon. 

Every day, 800 million people or more menstruate, and nearly 1 in 5 girls in the U.S. have missed school and other activities due to lack of period products. The period product brand Always has donated 20 million products in the US through its #EndPeriodPoverty program and has reached over 200,000 girls since 2008 in South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria. They have also donated 13 million pads with their Keeping Girls In School program. The company has stated, “Menstruation-related issues are a gender-based barrier to girls’ education. There are many reasons that children may miss school – but having a period should not be one of them.” 

Yet this is still not enough. Not all schools have pads and tampons openly available for students. Even if students may go to the nurse’s office to get one, this makes them not easily accessible and it becomes a hassle and embarrassing process to receive one, speaking from experience. Feminine products should essentially be a commodity for students placed in every school restroom but not limited to that. “Meeting the hygiene needs of all adolescent girls is a fundamental issue of human rights, dignity, and public health,” said former UNICEF Chief of Water, Sanatarism, and Hygiene, Sanjay Wijesekera. 

I, a high school student, have frequently worried, questioned, and asked why such a necessary product had a price tag when it is so crucial to women’s everyday lives. Women or young girls can not control whether or not they have their menstrual cycle, it simply happens. 

Feminine products such as tampons, pads, and menstrual cups are supposed to suppress the inevitable cycle for women to go about their everyday lives and not be limited by said circumstances. Now, obtaining the feminine products is an issue in itself and the US has made it into a multi-billion dollar industry while so many citizens still don’t have their needs being met and face the health consequences. 

Being able to take care of feminine needs is a right that every woman should already have, all over the world not just in developed countries. The wisest way to go about the situation and work towards the goal of free feminine products for women globally is by first making them available in every school and public restroom; reaching school district to school district, then moving on to cities, and thence to states, spreading awareness and supporters to take the necessary steps towards ending period poverty.