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The Costly Price of Period Poverty

The Costly Price of Period Poverty

  • June 5, 2024
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Abstract

Period poverty, defined as the lack of access to menstrual products, hygiene facilities, and adequate education about menstruation, is a global issue impacting millions of women and girls. This article examines the multifaceted implications of period poverty, with a focus on health, education, and economic consequences, particularly in third-world countries. Through the exploration of case studies and current research, the article highlights the urgent need for comprehensive solutions to address this critical issue.

Introduction

Period poverty remains a significant barrier to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls globally. Despite increasing awareness, millions still suffer from the lack of basic menstrual hygiene management (MHM). This issue is exacerbated in third-world countries where cultural taboos, economic constraints, and inadequate infrastructure further compound the problem (Sommer et al., 2015).

Health Implications

The health impacts of period poverty are profound. Lack of access to clean menstrual products and facilities can lead to infections and other health complications. For example, a study in Kenya found that 65% of women and girls could not afford sanitary pads, often resorting to unsafe alternatives like old cloths, newspapers, or even leaves (McMahon et al., 2011). These practices increase the risk of urinary and reproductive tract infections (House et al., 2013).

Educational Impacts

Period poverty also has significant educational repercussions. Inadequate menstrual hygiene management is a leading cause of school absenteeism among girls in developing countries. UNESCO estimates that one in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa miss school during their menstrual cycle, which equates to about 20% of their total school year (UNESCO, 2014). This absenteeism leads to lower academic performance and higher dropout rates, perpetuating cycles of poverty and limiting opportunities for these girls’ futures.

Economic Consequences

The economic impact of period poverty extends beyond the individual, affecting broader societal and economic development. Women and girls who miss educational opportunities are less likely to secure stable, well-paying jobs, contributing to the persistence of gender income disparities. A report by Plan International highlighted that period poverty could cost economies billions in lost productivity (Plan International, 2018).

Case Studies

Kenya

In Kenya, period poverty is a widespread issue with far-reaching consequences. A case study from rural Western Kenya highlighted that the inability to afford menstrual products forced many girls to engage in transactional sex to obtain sanitary pads, putting them at risk of sexual exploitation and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) (Phillips-Howard et al., 2015). This alarming situation underscores the urgent need for accessible and affordable menstrual products to safeguard the health and dignity of women and girls.

India

India’s struggles with period poverty are well-documented. A significant portion of Indian women and girls lack access to proper menstrual hygiene products and facilities. According to a study by WaterAid, approximately 70% of Indian women cannot afford sanitary products, leading to severe health and social consequences (WaterAid, 2017). Furthermore, the social stigma associated with menstruation in many parts of India exacerbates the isolation and discrimination faced by menstruating women and girls, often leading to missed school and workdays.

Uganda

In Uganda, period poverty affects both urban and rural populations. A study conducted in Kampala revealed that many girls miss up to eight days of school each term due to menstruation, significantly hindering their educational progress (Ninsiima et al., 2019). The lack of menstrual hygiene education and access to products also contributes to the perpetuation of myths and misconceptions about menstruation, further entrenching gender inequality.

Solutions and Interventions

Addressing period poverty requires a multifaceted approach. Governments, NGOs, and the private sector must collaborate to provide comprehensive MHM solutions. Key strategies include:

  • Subsidized Menstrual Products: Governments should consider subsidizing sanitary products to make them affordable for all women and girls.
  • Education and Awareness: Comprehensive menstrual hygiene education should be integrated into school curriculums to dispel myths and reduce stigma.
  • Improved Sanitation Facilities: Investment in sanitation infrastructure, particularly in schools, is crucial to ensure girls can manage their menstruation with dignity.
  • Community Engagement: Engaging community leaders and stakeholders in dialogue about menstruation can help shift cultural perceptions and reduce stigma.

Conclusion

Period poverty is a critical issue with far-reaching implications for health, education, and economic development. Addressing this issue requires a concerted effort from all sectors of society to ensure that women and girls can manage their menstruation safely and with dignity. By tackling period poverty, we can take significant strides towards gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls globally.

References

House, S., Mahon, T., & Cavill, S. (2013). Menstrual hygiene matters: A resource for improving menstrual hygiene around the world. WaterAid.

McMahon, S. A., Winch, P. J., Caruso, B. A., Obure, A. F., Ogutu, E. A., Ochari, I. A., & Rheingans, R. D. (2011). ‘The girl with her period is the one to hang her head’ Reflections on menstrual management among schoolgirls in rural Kenya. BMC International Health and Human Rights, 11(1), 1-10.

Ninsiima, A. B., Kabahenda, M., & Mbugua, S. (2019). Menstrual hygiene management among primary school girls in Kampala City, Uganda. International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics, 146(2), 216-221.

Phillips-Howard, P. A., Caruso, B., Torondel, B., Zulaika, G., Sahin, M., Sommer, M., & House, S. (2015). Menstrual hygiene management among adolescent schoolgirls in low- and middle-income countries: research priorities. Global Health Action, 8(1), 26622.

Plan International. (2018). Menstrual hygiene management: breaking the silence. Plan International.

Sommer, M., Sahin, M., & Santosh, J. (2015). Overcoming the taboo: advancing the global agenda for menstrual hygiene management for schoolgirls. American Journal of Public Health, 105(9), 1550-1551.

UNESCO. (2014). Puberty education & menstrual hygiene management. Good Policy and Practice in Health Education, Booklet 9. UNESCO.

WaterAid. (2017). Menstrual hygiene management in India: Country snapshot. WaterAid India.

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