How does lack of access to menstrual products affect women’s empowerment? » ABC of science

Lack of access to menstrual products, period education, and waste management all affect how women manage their periods. The lack of appropriate systems in place affects their participation in the economy and exacerbates existing inequalities.

Imagine having to choose between spending a certain amount of money on home/school supplies or buying a few sanitary napkins EVERY MONTH. Imagine having to skip school again because there is no restroom to go and change your sanitary napkin.

Many experts have found that most of the physical health risks related to urinary tract infections and reproductive health result from the practices a woman must adopt during her menstrual cycle or period.

This is the reality that around 500 million women face every month, according to the latest statistics from the World Bank. The statistics from developing countries are staggering in this regard. For example, in India, 70% of reproductive diseases in women are caused by poor menstrual hygiene. Women often use dirty rags as a substitute for sanitary napkins.

Added to this is the shame, as women have to find ways to hide that cloth, wash it and dry it – to make sure no one knows they’re on their period.

The statistics become daunting depending on the number of people living below the poverty line in a country, because it involves hard choices, like buying a bag of wheat or buying a sanitary napkin.

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Poverty period

Lack of access to menstrual products (tampons/pads/cups), hygiene facilities, education and waste management runs the gamut of what experts have recently called period of poverty.

Different types of menstrual hygiene products available in the market. (Photo credit: Alina Kruk/Shutterstock)

In fact, although menstrual poverty is extreme in developing countries, it is far from non-existent in the developed world. Some studies, even in countries like the United States, have pointed out that nearly two-thirds of low-income women cannot afford menstrual products, according to a cited study conducted in 2019.

Menstrual poverty can only be tackled with a multidimensional approach.

First and foremost, it requires institutions to fight against taboos. Many people in developing countries find it difficult to accept that menstruation is part of normal, healthy life.

Several taboos, unprecedented practices of ostracizing a woman during her period, shaming her and other discriminatory norms challenge the economic problem of improving access. In such societies, none of the improvements aimed at improving infrastructure would matter, as long as such beliefs are maintained.

Not paying attention to tackling taboos also affects women’s economic performance. It deprives them of access to education and paid employment and exacerbates inequalities.

Period Poverty and Empowerment

To empower someone is to allow them to realize their full potential. Period poverty hampers participation in economic activities at work, school and in the community. It is not a task that a woman can carry out alone.


A protest in London, 2020 carried out to pressure governments to improve access. (Photo credit: JessicaGirvan/Shutterstock)

Mindset problems due to mistaken beliefs require intervention at a higher level. Multiple governmental and non-governmental organizations need to come together, network with the local community, build trust and faith, and challenge taboos.

At the same time, economic access to menstrual products must be improved by making menstrual hygiene products accessible.

Cutting taxes and building better networked supply chains is one such way forward.

In addition, governments should also focus on building basic social infrastructure, such as access to running water and building toilets.

Scotland in 2021 passed a bill to provide free sanitary pads and tampons in community centers and other public places. It is the first country to do so!

However, other developed countries have begun to move in this direction. Among developing countries, Kenya is the first country to have eliminated the stamp tax. Countries like Malaysia, Nigeria, Lebanon, and Tanzania have abolished taxes on locally made and produced goods.

But is tax abolition enough?

Evidence of the success of this strategy is mixed, due to the complex market structures that persist in economies. For example, in some countries, the base price of the product is so high that eliminating taxes does not drastically reduce the price of the product, so it remains unaffordable.

In fact, the loss of government revenue becomes significant in such cases and hampers its ability to fund other interventions.

Fundamentally, it is extremely crucial that countries consciously adopt policies that contribute significantly to bringing about the required change in these underlying social norms and social infrastructure. Only this will improve access for all women.

Global initiatives

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 interrelated goals set by the United Nations to be achieved by 2030. These 17 goals address issues related to health, environment and economic growth, with specific targets to be achieved by 193 member countries. UN countries.

The deprivations associated with the period of poverty are linked to 5 SDGs. However, none of these goals are binding on a nation. Most developing countries also implicitly recognize menstrual health management, but it remains unclear if anything will be done about it.

Corporate social responsibility sign.  Illustration of sustainable development goals.  SDG signs

SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG 4 (quality education), SDG 5 (gender equality) and SDG 6 (drinking water and sanitation) are linked to the elimination of periodic poverty. (Photo credit: Artvictory/Shutterstock)

As global citizens, we have come a long way in understanding and improving access to menstrual products compared to 100 years ago, but we still have a long way to go.

The eradication of menstrual poverty is further threatened due to COVID-19. There is an increase in violence and challenges in accessing education and affordable health care which has re-emphasized the eradication of period poverty. This shift has disproportionately affected young women, and in some countries the initiatives have taken a back seat to other priorities.

Finally, policies must focus not only on improving access to these products by reducing taxes. Access should include improving the availability of menstrual products in public places and access to clean toilets.

A collective effort should be made to educate girls and boys on relevant aspects of menstrual cycles. Women also need to be educated about the different products used and healthy practices to adopt during menstruation.

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