On any given day, over 800 million people are menstruating. And while picking up a box of tampons at the drugstore is a common occurrence for some of those 800 million people, it isn’t for all.
All over the world (and in our own North American backyard), there are people menstruating who don’t have access to resources that allow them to go about their day safely and securely when bleeding.
And while these inequalities have always existed, a study done by Plan Canada found that due to the lingering COVID-19 health crisis— people are experiencing period poverty now more than ever.
Who is affected?
Menstrual health isn’t just a period issue. 2.3 billion people live without basic sanitation and in developing countries, only 27% of people have hand washing facilities at home, according to UNICEF. Not being able to use these facilities makes it harder for people with periods to manage their periods safely and with dignity.
People with disabilities disproportionately don’t have access to resources they need so they could manage their periods, and trans and non-binary people with periods have a more difficult time as well. Living in conflict-affected areas, or during a crisis like COVID-19 also makes it a lot more difficult to manage periods.
Basically, period poverty can affect anyone— life doesn’t stop for periods.
What is period poverty?
Period poverty exists all around the globe for a whole stack of reasons that intertwine with one another, and they all affect a person’s overall well being. Lack of access to period products, menstrual hygiene and health education, toilets, water, and even waste management all play a role in period poverty. Let’s learn more about what period poverty looks like today.
Lack of access to period products
Everyone’s period is different, but the average menstruating person has a total of 456 periods in their lifetime. That equals about 2280 days bleeding— which is roughly 6 whole years.
During that time, you have to buy tampons, pads, cups, and period underwear to manage the bleeding. Then there’s pain medication, hot water bottles, snacks, acne medication, birth control, new sheets or clothes if you’ve leaked— which all leads up to one thing: an incredibly expensive flow. If you break down the cost of a period, it all comes down to about $18,000 in an entire lifetime.
Not only are periods expensive but they’re also hard to access— especially due to COVID-19. With border closures and delivery disruptions, mail has slowed down the past year, especially to smaller areas. This makes it more difficult for stores to source things like tampons and pads. And when they are carried, Plan Canada reports that the prices of these period products are inflated— making them even harder to afford.
With less products available, this may lead people to reuse products, or leave them unchanged for longer periods. This could lead to serious health problems, like Toxic Shock Syndrome, UTI’s and in even some cases— infertility.
Lack of access to menstrual hygiene education
With lockdowns happening all over the world due to COVID-19 and students being out of school— it’s led to people having less educational resources about their bodies. And it’s not just the classroom aspect! Without the immediate connection of teachers and friends, it’s harder to connect with others to learn more about how their body works- especially when healthcare is costly in some countries.
This is even truer in areas where people don’t have access to the internet, or can't afford to be online. While it may just seem simple to Google and fall down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, that’s not always an option.
All of this is on top of the fact that periods are still stigmatized. They can still be thought of as dirty, or shameful— so they can be excluded from curriculums, or even just barred from talking about at home. And the discrimination trans, non-binary or intersex people face when it comes to their period is even greater. Long story short: people don't always have the opportunity to learn about their periods and how to care for themselves during it— both physically and emotionally.
Lack of access to water
Think about your period routine. Think of the showers or baths you take to clean yourself after a long day. The laundry machine that washes your clothes. The tap that you wash your hands under.
Having access to clean and reliable water is such an essential part of managing menstruation safely. Not only does water prevent infections, but it also simply allows people with periods to go about their daily lives comfortably regardless if they’re bleeding.