Period Poverty: A Silent Pandemic

Period poverty. It is a term that is foreign to some, but all too familiar for others.

A matter that society has glossed over for years, period poverty is the ever-growing human rights issue in which overwhelming numbers of young girls and women across the world struggle to access menstrual hygiene products and adequate education about menstruation. 

What causes Period Poverty?

The most significant factor of this social issue is the high costs and taxation that different governments place on period products. When looking at as an example, the majority price range for pads and tampons falls between $5 and $10. 

For the 24 million American women living in poverty, this price range might be all or majority of the money a woman has for a week to buy food and water, leaving them no choice but to make the period products an option and not a necessity. 

Taxation doesn't help either. 31 states in the U.S. and countless other countries place a sales tax on menstrual hygiene products. As a result of this action, the extra cents now added on to a pack of pads may be the defining factor in whether a homeless woman can afford it or not. 

It also raises the question: is taxing period products equitable? Every state has the freedom of lifting sales taxes off items they deem a necessity. Yet, there has been a steady controversy over some states not viewing the essential period products as a necessity. The taxation of hygiene products because of its perception of being a non-necessity or luxury item is known as the “tampon tax.” 


Low accessibility of menstrual products is another root of period poverty.  For women who live in lower-income and less developed communities, obtaining period products is often hard to come by. For other women who happen to live near public facilities, they rarely find luck. Tampon machines always seem to malfunction or even be empty, while very few countries offer free products in their restrooms. 

The overall stigma surrounding periods is the definitive cause of period poverty. Even though more discussions and advocacy regarding menstruation are taking place, the topic still gets met with disapproval and immaturity. Law-makers don't take the issue seriously when hearing concerns from citizens, young girls do not receive the proper education on how to care for themselves during their cycle, leaving them confused, and adults hastily push the matter to the back burner.

How are Females Affected?

The circumstance of not having access to menstrual products opens up a pathway for many problems. Missing school is the leading factor for girls, particularly in less developed nations. Because a student from one of these nations may not have the financial means or access to buy the proper menstrual products, she may refrain from going to school during her cycle, which in turn, may negatively affect her ability to keep up with material or overall education.

empty classroom with wooden chairs and desks

According to a survey conducted by Always, a menstrual hygiene product brand, nearly one in five American schoolgirls have either attended school for only a portion of the day or missed school entirely as a result of not having access to the necessary hygiene products. Overseas, a UNESCO report found that one in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa miss school during their monthly menstrual cycle, estimating the absence in a given school year to be as much as 20 percent.

In order to not fall behind, girls will use any piece of clothing within reach, like an old shirt or rag. Should the item be unclean, however, this will create substantial risks for their health, leading to the aspect of females’ health being put at risk due to period poverty.

Given the high prices and low accessibility of menstrual products, women who are homeless or impoverished are often forced to use any absorbable cloth, and in extreme cases, may be reduced to using foreign objects. The unsanitary nature of these items can significantly compromise a woman’s physical health, creating medical emergencies. Toxic shock syndrome, reproductive tract infections and cervical cancer are common vaginal disorders that result from poor menstrual hygiene.

Shame is the most prominent effect experienced by females around the world, across all financial circumstances. The disgust, misinformation and lack of attention that society associates with this natural biological process takes a profound toll on girls' emotional health. Many girls end up believing that they are dirty while on their cycle, causing them to stay home from school or miss out on socializing with their friends. In far too many instances, that shame is extended further into ostracization and harassment. 

woman with her hand up to cover her face

Women in certain regions in India are restricted from cooking, working and eating certain foods due to the overall perception that women are dirty and polluting when on their cycle.

In one distressing case, a 14-year-old Kenyan schoolgirl took her own life after being shamed by her teacher for bleeding through her uniform.

Ways You Can Help

Period poverty is undoubtedly such a widespread and overwhelming issue. Fortunately, there are multiple opportunities available for the everyday person to help those who are suffering:

  • Push for legislative change - If it citizens never expressed their concerns, Scotland would never have declared all period products free, nor would Malaysia have lifted the Sales and Service Tax on period products. Contact your local or state elected officials and make your requests to change the policies that contribute to period poverty
  • Donate menstrual hygiene products - Many homeless and women's shelters, churches and organizations accept hygiene products as donations
  • Host period packing parties - Buy some pads and tampons and gather some of your friends or family members to package these items. Donate them to organizations, like The Homeless Period Project, that specialize in delivering period products to girls and women in need. Note: Georgia State's very own chapter of the national organization, PERIOD, frequently holds period packing parties, allowing all students to participate and bring in donations to package
  • Continue to educate yourself (and regularly educate your peers) - Keep reading and sharing articles about period poverty. Pay attention to the passings of bills. The initiatives advocates have taken to help end period poverty is attributed, in part, to the knowledge that people passed on to them. Without the passage of information on to others, they can only do so much to help end this human rights issue.