In the United States, 1 in 5 teens struggle to or can’t afford menstrual products, and in India, 88% of women don’t have access to menstrual products at all. They often have no choice but to use thin toilet paper, rolled up socks, and other low-quality items that are dangerous, uncomfortable, impractical, and ineffective. This issue is one part of a long-neglected global public health crisis called period poverty, defined as an inadequate access to period education, products, and hygiene facilities.
One reason why period poverty exists is the globally present tampon tax, which refers to the luxury tax on menstrual products. As an uncontrollable process, period hygiene needs to be treated as a basic human right, not as a luxury. Even as the tampon tax is slowly being lifted in some places like Kenya, period products are still either hard to find or expensive without tax, especially for women in poverty or women living in a country in crisis. Amidst the severe economic crash in Lebanon, for instance, thousands of Lebanese women are currently forced to choose paying for food over menstrual products.
One reason why period poverty exists is the globally present tampon tax, which refers to the luxury tax on menstrual products. As an uncontrollable process, period hygiene needs to be treated as a basic human right, not as a luxury.
Another factor playing into period poverty, and perhaps is the root of the issue, is the massive stigma around periods. Deeply misogynistic and uneducated traditions lead people to treat those who menstruate as disgusting, disgraceful, or shameful to talk about or even be around. In Venezuela, for example, some women are forced to sleep in isolated huts when on their periods. Globally, people still hold harmful, false beliefs like using tampons makes one lose their virginity, or touching food while menstruating makes it rot. Even in more progressive countries, a cultural shame still hangs around periods, with 58% of women in the US having felt embarrassment for simply having a period before and 51% of men in the US thinking it is inappropriate to mention periods in a work setting.
The impacts of period poverty continue even after the duration of a period, and can affect a woman’s entire life. For example, the American Medical Women’s Association found that 2 out of 3 girls around the world may avoid school when on their periods, either due to a lack of resources or stigma, meaning period poverty is a further barrier to girls’ education. Other studies show that there is a link between menstruation and lost wages. And when women don’t have the ability to safely and hygienically manage their period, they are put at a much higher risk of a reproductive tract infection. In short, period poverty means millions of women face oppression and inequity for menstruating.
Another factor playing into period poverty, and perhaps is the root of the issue, is the massive stigma around periods. Deeply misogynistic and uneducated traditions lead people to treat those who menstruate as disgusting, disgraceful, or shameful to talk about or even be around.
Having a period is not a choice, not to mention nobody would be alive without periods, so eliminating the taboo on this natural and important biological occurrence is crucial to solving period poverty. Higher quality health education in schools, including men and boys in the conversation, and discussing periods without shame and from a science-backed standpoint are just a couple ways we can achieve that. Once we create the mass cultural shifts needed for society to view period poverty as the urgent health crisis it is, efforts to provide women in need with menstrual products and safe hygiene facilities becomes all of society’s priority. Fantastic organizations like PERIOD and the Myna Mahila Foundation are not only creating campaigns to educate on periods, but are also already taking the next steps to work with policymakers on tampon taxes or to distribute free period products.
In Islam, according to hadith, the Prophet’s (PBUH) wife Aisha said that “The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) would recline on my lap while I was menstruating and he would read the Quran.” This beautiful anecdote, along with other hadiths, show how the Prophet (PBUH) discouraged any stigma around women on their periods, and he, instead, encouraged others to treat women on their periods as normal people rather than dirty or punished. Islam, in general, treats mothers as some of the most respected people in society, further proving that periods, a vital part of motherhood, are a natural process that all women should be supported on and respected on. Non-Muslims and Muslims alike should adopt the mindset of the Prophet (PBUH) in order to spread awareness about period poverty and ultimately work towards ending this crisis.