• Hughlyn Wong

The Global Health Crisis of Period Poverty

At the intersection of gender and class

By Hughlyn Wong

June 20, 2022


Last month, my Economics class went on a field trip to the United Nations Headquarters in New York. On the tour, our guide talked about an issue that lies dear to her heart: period poverty. Her interest and clear passion for the project encouraged me to look into the topic. As I am writing this, I am on my period. Every month, I suffer from excruciating cramps, fatigue, and appetite changes. The uncomfortable bloating of my uterus is a constant reminder of struggles unique to women and people who menstruate. If that sounds bad, or you can relate, imagine having to go through a period without the help of pads, tampons, or painkillers.


Period poverty is the lack of access to menstrual products, hygiene facilities, and puberty and sex education. Estimated to affect around 500 million people worldwide, especially in low- and middle-income countries, period poverty causes physical, mental, and emotional challenges. A survey in Kenya about menstruation shows that 7% of women and girls relied on old cloth, pieces of blankets, mud, and newspapers, while 46% percent on disposable pads and 6% on reusable pads. Those without access to sanitary products, water, or education are also at higher risk of infections such as urinary tract infections, bacterial vaginosis, and toxic shock syndrome. Even though menstruating is uncontrollable and inevitable, in the United States, 35 states charge extra taxes on menstrual products that other necessities don’t have.


The stigma surrounding periods, especially in conservative cultures that thrive on patriarchal norms, breeds shame and guilt. A study shows that 10% of girls in Africa skip school while menstruating. Without access to menstrual products or safe, private toilets at schools, girls miss school out in fear of bleeding out in public. This affects their attendance, causing low grades, and increases school dropout rates which qualifies them for lower-level jobs, consequently maintaining the lower status of women in society. In a Bangladesh study, 73% of women missed work six days a month on average due to menstruation, and preventable time away from work is precious money lost, disproportionately affecting lower-class women.


The easiest way to solve period poverty would be to just completely end gender discrimination and poverty, as period poverty lies at the intersection of class and gender. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done. Some ways to combat the global health crisis of period poverty:

  • Spread awareness of the issue

  • Advocate for governments to provide infrastructure and legislature to reduce taxes and increase access to affordable menstrual products

  • Donate to programs that work to provide products and sanitary products to communities.

 
About the Author

Hi! I'm Hughlyn and I come from Hong Kong. I'm a 17-year-old junior at Hotchkiss School. I have been a feminist since middle school and conceptualized gender inequality. I'm part of Bluestockings, the gender equality club at school, and last summer I attended the Women in Leadership program at Brown University. As a teenage Asian girl, there are many topics that I feel "typical" feminist spaces don't discuss and I created this blog as an intersectional and safe area to talk about feminism and other random topics.


 

Sources


(1) ActionAid. “Period poverty.” ActionAid UK, 19 May 2022, https://www.actionaid.org.uk/our-work/womens-rights/period-poverty#footnote3_qsox6zl.


(2) Michel, Janet, et al. “Period poverty: why it should be everybody's business.” Journal of Global Health Reports, vol. 6, 2022. joghr, https://www.joghr.org/article/32436-period-poverty-why-it-should-be-everybody-s-business.


(3) Nwadike, Valinda Riggins. “What is period poverty?” Medical News Today, 16 September 2021, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/period-poverty.


(4) Tull, Kerina. “Period poverty impact on the economic empowerment of women.” GOV.UK, 23 January 2019, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5c6e87b8ed915d4a32cf063a/period.pdf.