Period Poverty Around the World – A Look At Growing Awareness Of This Issue

Ruby Cup

From Academy Award-winning documentaries to activists making global headlines, prisons and schools changing their policies for menstruating people and more, there has been a lot of talk about period poverty over the last few years. The world is starting to pay attention to the reality of what it’s like to live with lack of access to suitable period products. 

Data from the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics has found that on a global scale, around 500 million people experience period poverty.

But when we talk about period poverty, it’s easy to focus our attention on what’s happening abroad, particularly in the Global South. A survey by period tracking app Flo found that out of 200,000 respondents, 34% believed that period poverty only existed in less economically developed countries.

But that assumption is hiding a situation that can be found much closer to home. Period poverty is a global issue, affecting menstruating people around the world, even in the richest countries.

In the UK, a Plan International UK survey of 1,000 young women aged 14-21 found that 1 in 7 had struggled to afford period products. A similar study from and Thinx found that in the US, that figure rose to 1 in 5. Meanwhile, The Kit recently claimed that up to a third of Canadian women under the age of 25 had struggled to afford period products.

Student explaining how to use a Ruby Cup in Uganda

Experiencing period poverty can have serious consequences for people’s lifestyles and wellbeing. In 2017, a study by Freedom4Girls found that in the UK, around 137,000 students a year miss school as a result of not having access to appropriate period products.  

And the risks of experiencing period poverty are much higher for some groups in society, with the heaviest burden being faced by marginalized people including indigenous communities and those experiencing homelessness. It’s also been shown that women in coercive or controlling relationships can also struggle to access their own funds in order to purchase period products. An investigation by RightsInfo found that the UKs food banks and homeless shelters reported a sharp rise in women collecting period products on a monthly basis. In the US, nearly 25 million women live below the poverty line, but period products are not covered by food stamps, meaning that accessing them is extremely difficult.

Stigma Sticks

Period poverty is not the only thing that menstruating people around the world have in common. Stigma and taboos around periods are also a global issue. It’s estimated that there are around 5,000 euphemisms for menstruation around the world. It’s still a subject that doesn’t get openly discussed in most societies. In the US, a Thinx poll of 1,500 women found that 58% felt embarrassed whilst having a period. And it’s no wonder. In the same group of respondents, 42% had experienced period shaming. 

Ruby Cup are a menstrual cup retailer who are tackling period poverty by offering a built in Buy One, Give One scheme with every cup that is purchased. Ruby Cup partner with local organizations in the areas where they donate, creating workshops and teaching materials to help recipients understand and get the most from their new period product.

Golda from the Golden Girls Foundation, Kenya

Alfred Muli is Ruby Cup’s Regional Program Manager in East Africa. Last year he was invited to take part in a gathering of 22 youth workers from organisations around the world including Kenya, Uganda, Spain, the Philippines, Norway, Poland, Belgium and Sweden. “I was interested to learn through our sharing sessions that the knowledge gaps around menstruation are very similar around the world,” said Alfred. “The focus on menstrual health and hygiene work has been on the Global South, but it became very apparent that education about MHH is lacking in the Global North as well.”

“Period poverty feeds off stigma and shame,” says Amaia Arranz, Social Impact Director and COO of Ruby Cup. “Girls and women in danger of social exclusion are likely to feel more embarrassed to ask for pads and tampons than they are to ask for food or school materials for example. Asking for anything is hard enough so adding social stigma to that makes it really complex. At the same time, when there is a taboo around particular items, people are less likely to donate them to food banks and charities are less likely to include them in public appeals too.”

A study by Irise International and dissertation student Elizabeth Goolden found that girls living in the UK and Uganda experienced very similar period taboos. Girls in both countries talked about the embarrassment of experiencing a period and the need to keep their monthly bleeding a secret from others. Both sets of girls also spoke of the serious concern that they might stand up and discover a stain on their clothing. In both cultures, young women also talked about a lack of conversation and discussion about periods, both at school and at home.

Golda from the Golden Girls Foundation talking to students about the Ruby Cup, Kenya.

Period Poverty in the UK

In 2019, Ruby Cup began their first donation partnership with an organization in the UK. Ditch the Rag are aiming to end period poverty with plastic-free, eco-friendly products. The charity was founded by a Science Teacher in London who noticed that many of her students were experiencing period poverty. Wanting to help, Amirah would buy pads and tampons for the girls on a regular basis. Amirah was shocked by the number of students she met who were experiencing period poverty. “Many of the girls I work with report struggling to afford period products on a regular basis. There is also still the remains of the period taboo, which makes girls reluctant to talk openly about their periods.”

As time went on, Amirah became more and more uncomfortable about buying so many disposable, plastic products. She decided to begin a crowdfunding campaign to create plastic free menstrual care packs to be distributed to girls who were receiving free school meals. Amirah reached out to Ruby Cup to ask for support. With the help of donated Ruby Cups, she was able to increase her output tenfold. Amirah distributes the menstrual care packs as part of a workshop program which focuses on why women have periods, and informs the girls about how to look after their new menstrual cup.  

In order to begin tackling period poverty and breaking down period stigmas, we need to take a close look at the way periods are addressed in our own cultures and begin to understand the myths and taboos that are subtly preventing period poverty from being adequately addressed. More than anything, we need to understand that period poverty is not a foreign issue. The chances are, it’s happening in a home in your own neighborhood, whatever continent you live on.

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