Period Poverty: A Serious Health Concern & Violation of Rights

by Ella

In 2024, it’s shocking that something as natural as menstruation can pose health risks for many women around the world. Period poverty, affecting an estimated 500 million people globally, remains a significant issue, with the number of affected individuals rising annually in places like the UK.


Period poverty disrupts lives, hindering women and girls from reaching their full potential. Inadequate access to period products often leads to missed school, work, or sports activities and can result in bullying or feelings of shame. Beyond these disruptions, period poverty can cause serious health complications.


Health Risks of Period Poverty

A significant yet under-discussed consequence of period poverty is the health complications that arise from reusing disposable period products or using unsuitable alternatives. These coping strategies, used by millions of women and girls worldwide, can lead to various health issues.


A 2023 poll by ActionAid revealed that 41% of UK women experiencing period poverty extended the use of pads or tampons beyond the recommended time, while 8% reused disposable pads. Additionally, many relied on substitutes like cotton wool, socks, clothing, paper, or newspaper. In more extreme cases, women have used dried leaves, feathers, or even cow dung.


Health Complications

These methods can cause skin irritation, rashes, urinary tract infections (UTIs), thrush, and pelvic inflammatory disease. Reusing items poses significant risks due to bacteria, and keeping a tampon in for too long can result in toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a potentially life-threatening condition.

Barriers to Safe Menstrual Management

The absence of period products is compounded by a lack of clean water, soap, suitable toilets, and private spaces. According to UN Women, 1.25 million women and girls globally lack access to safe, private toilets, increasing the likelihood of unsafe practices.

For instance, in Uganda’s Imvepi refugee settlement, while women have initiated projects to create reusable sanitary pads, the use of these pads is hindered by water scarcity. In Gaza, women resort to using tent pieces due to the scarcity of period products, with limited privacy exacerbating the issue. Following natural disasters, such as the earthquakes in Turkey, Syria, and Morocco in 2023, women relied heavily on aid organizations for period products.

Addressing Period Poverty

To manage periods safely, it’s crucial to tackle period poverty through several strategies:

Raising Awareness: Combat the stigma surrounding menstruation by encouraging open discussions. When women and girls are unembarrassed to talk about periods, they are more likely to advocate for their needs.

Government Action: Advocate for governments to provide free and easily accessible period products, following Scotland’s example with its landmark bill in 2020.

Humanitarian Aid: Ensure that period products are included in emergency aid packages and that women lead humanitarian efforts to better address women’s needs.

Ensuring access to safe menstrual products and facilities is vital for the dignity and health of women and girls worldwide. By addressing period poverty, we can help safeguard their health and uphold their rights.


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