Period poverty is a global issue, effecting the lives of many. Find out what period poverty is and what you can do to raise awareness and tackle the problem.
Everyone has the right to regular access to clean and safe period products, and the right to manage their period safely and with dignity. Yet globally- and here in the UK- the reality is very different. Despite the supermarket shelves literally heaving with period products, many people are struggling to afford to buy what they need. Sanitary products aren’t free, and they’re not freely accessible either.
During the Covid 19 pandemic, period poverty grew as accessibility to products decreased (remember the empty shelves?) and wages dropped. A survey carried out by Plan International UK reported that 30% of people they spoke to admitted they couldn’t afford period products due to the pandemic; 54% had resorted to using toilet paper as a result.
A further study done by charity Period Power subsequently reported an increase in their annual expenditure, rising from £509 in 2019 to a massive £3,683 in 2020- highlighting the real need for their services due to period poverty.
More recent studies now show that more women view their period as a burden, that it directly impacts negatively on heath and wellbeing, and is a source of shame and embarrassment.
And yet a You Gov poll carried out in September 2022 found that a third of people living in Britain hadn’t even heard of the term ‘period poverty’ before.
A further 11% said that they’d heard the term, but weren’t sure what it meant, and of those who were familiar with it, 75% were women. And when prompted to explain what period poverty is, 78% recognised that it was being unable to afford sanitary products, 43% said it was being unable to access products, 28% said that it was being unable to access menstrual healthcare, and 20% said that it was also the inability to access menstrual health education.
Period poverty is all four, but only 24% of those surveyed were able to identify that.
Period Poverty is:
- Being unable to afford period products.
- Being unable to access period products.
- Being unable to access menstrual healthcare.
- Being unable to access menstrual education.
Period poverty encompasses all four scenarios, and for different reasons.
How does period poverty affect lives?
Period poverty affects lives. People who bleed but who cannot access health care, education and proper hygienic period products are suffering, and its time to make a change. There are many ways that lives are affected:
Mental health and wellbeing
Imagine the shame and embarrassment of having to ask for period products because you cannot afford to buy them for yourself. Imagine the anxiety felt by girls attending school with only tissue paper to rely on because they don’t have access to sanitary products. Imagine missing out on everyday life because you fear leaks, you fear being ‘caught out’ or you fear other people knowing that you’re on your period.
For millions of people, this is a reality every single month, and it leads to feelings of shame, low self esteem and isolation.
According to Wen, 48% of girls in the UK are embarrassed about their periods, with 15% reporting that they were ashamed, and anxious to conceal the ‘smell’, afraid that others would know they were bleeding.
A report by Bloody Good Period concludes that periods are at best an
'Often- Unpredictable Everyday Stressor, where constant considerations require ongoing navigation in public spaces that aren’t designed with a monthly flow in mind. Furthermore, all of these considerations can change - both within the monthly cycle and across the life course.
At worst, though, periods and the current treatment of people who menstruate is at odds with the basic human right to respect, dignity, education and a life free of discrimination.’
Health and hygiene
Improvising with tissue paper is a last resort, but a reality for many. But how safe and hygienic is this? Lots of women are using strips of clothing or bath towels to manage their period. Others are resorting to less than sanitary methods of managing, putting their own health at risk because they cannot access appropriate products.
And those who can, are faced with an impossible decision of using inferior products because that might be all they can afford, or have access to. According to Wen, 42% of women they spoke to were concerned about harmful chemicals in the products they were using.
Missing out on work opportunities
A report by T.A.P Project found that 58% of those they spoke to had previously told their employer that they had the flu or other illness, rather than let them know they were on their period and unable to come in to work.
A study done by Bloody Good Period found that people preferred to use up their leave when they needed time off due to menstrual health; those in low paid positions or working shifts were more likely to just ‘grit their teeth’ because they couldn’t afford to take unpaid leave or because their contracts weren’t secure.
The fact is, many people who menstruate regularly miss work due to their period.
Wen reports that in the UK, 137,700 children miss school due to period poverty each year. Globally, millions of children are missing out on valuable education, limiting future access to job opportunities and training.
And despite the UK government’s scheme to provide all schools in England with free period products, 40% say they’re still likely to miss school in the coming year due to their period.
People who menstruate are often held back in sport too. A BBC report on a study by Youth Sport Trust found that 37% of those they spoke had missed sports due to their period, and this was up from 27% in 2018. Many spoke of feeling embarrassed, and weak during their period, with 33% saying they lacked confidence to take part and 33%.
What can we do to tackle period poverty?
There are many causes of period poverty:
- Lack of education
- Lack of funding to buy period products
- Abuse and neglect
- Lack of accesses period products
When it comes to tackling the issue, there are many problems that need to be addressed. According to Bloody Good Period, despite the 2021 abolishment of the UK ‘tampon tax’, 48% of British people still believe that more can- and should- be done. Yes, the free period products for schools scheme is welcomed, but that has its limitations too.
A report by Wen shows that 59% of schools had not taken up the scheme, leaving students in those school exposed to a continuation of period poverty. There’s an issue with the type of period products being ordered in by schools too.
Disposable products are certainly cheaper for the government in the short term, but they don’t provide long terms solutions for students. Reusable products cost more initially, but they’d do more to tackle the issue both financially and in terms of sustainability- not to mention providing students with longer term solutions when school is closed and access to the products is limited.
Reusable period pants can be used for up to two years if cared for roperly, meaning that nobody has to lose access. WUKA reusable period pants are also less harmful to students, with no toxic chemicals present - and let’s not forget that schools will eventually decrease their orders over time if students are equipped with reusable products they can take ownership of, instead of having to ask each time they need to manage their period.
The bottom line on period poverty
If we’re to achieve true menstrual equity, everyone must have access to sufficient period products that enables them to manage their menstrual cycle with dignity and in a safe and hygienic manner.
In order to tackle the issue, we need to ensure that everyone has access to menstrual education- whether they have periods or not- and we need to challenge discrimination that leads to period shaming.
We need to provide access to all, to proper menstrual health care, and we need to get better at listening to those who tell us about the issues they’re facing. Nobody should miss out on experiences just because they bleed. Nobody should feel lonely, isolated or ashamed because they bleed. Nobody should accept anything less than basic, decent, health care and education.
This is not a ‘women only’ issue. We need to normalise the conversations, open up to each other about the situation and break the taboos that suppress us all.
Shop the Nadiya Hussain x WUKA IWD collection
To mark International Women’s Day 2023, we teamed up with Nadiya Hussain MBE to create an exclusive collection of reusable period underwear.
For every item purchased between 7-14 March 2023 we will donate one pair of WUKA basics to Choose Love, a charity that supports displaced refugees and asylum seekers- many of whom are menstruating people struggling to manage their period at a time of great upheaval.
Nobody should be forced to choose between food and period products. Everyone deserves the chance to rebuild their lives and to seek safety with dignity and respect. Help us to support the valuable work that Choose Love does, by shopping the collection today.
What causes period poverty?
The main causes of period poverty are:
- lack of access to period products
- Lack of funds to buy period products
- Benefit cuts
- Lack of supply
- Abuse and neglect
Who is affected by period poverty?
Period poverty can affect any girl or woman who doesn’t have access to safe and hygienic period products. Its a global issues, yet here in the UK 30% of girls and women say they cannot afford period products, and 54% admit to using toilet paper instead.
- Educating ourselves and others
- Supporting period poverty charities and brands who support the charities
- Attending marches and events that raise awareness and money for ending period poverty
How does period poverty affect girls?
Lots of girls and women have missed sport, work, school and other events due to their period, and its predicted that 40% will miss out on education this year due to their period.
This leads to lack of education and less job opportunities in later life. Period poverty also leads to fear and anxiety and this can lead to mental health issues.