Periods are something that almost all girls experience in her life. And if you have gotten a period, you’ll likely know about the annoying monthly trip to the chemist where you feel like you’re spending a fortune on pads or tampons and other period products. However, being able to afford these products is a privilege some women simply can’t afford.
This is known as period poverty.
Period poverty refers to the inability to access menstrual products, such as pads, tampons, menstrual cups and more. This happens because of financial difficulties and often leads to women and girls missing work, college or school. This is an issue across the world, even in richer countries.
According to Plan International, you can spend an average of €132 on period products a year. They also found that half of Irish girls have experienced issues around affordability of sanitary products.
Who does period poverty affect?
Not being able to afford the likes of pads and tampons is one of the main reasons behind period poverty. People who come from low-income households may struggle to include period products in their budget, leading to young girls too nervous to ask for them. Instead, they will find alternative ways to deal with their period, such as using socks, old cloths or tissue paper, this can cause discomfort and irritation because some alternatives can be unsanitary.
Homeless people don’t always have access to period products, and even accessing a toilet can be hard. Many people heavily rely on donations to charities to get any products they may need. They then have to use public bathrooms or shared facilities in hostels to clean up and/or change their products.
People living in Direct Provision, centres that house asylum seekers until they can find housing in Ireland, are given a weekly allowance of €38.80 a week. With this money, they have to choose to prioritize their period products over other basic needs, such as clothing.
Stigma around periods is still a big problem, making it hard for people to ask for help when they need it. For example, jokes around how a girl could act leading up to her period can stop them from talking about how it affects them.
What are the impacts of period poverty?
Not having access to any menstrual products is, of course, inconvenient, however, it can also have social, emotional and physical impacts.
People who experience period poverty can feel embarrassed and ashamed for not being able to access products they need. This can have a negative effect on your wellbeing and mental health, which is something nobody deserves.
Not having any pads or tampons during your period can lead to girls almost hiding away and keeping to themselves. This in turn causes girls to miss out on school or college. An Irish survey found that 61% of schoolgirls missed school because of their period. No girl should ever miss out on their education because of their period.
What can you do to help?
We are seeing more and more places dedicate time and money to period poverty. The Scottish government dedicated £5.2 million pounds to free period products in schools and also give free products to women in need, starting with those living in low-income households.
The New Zealand government will start giving free period products to all schools, to try tackle period poverty. The Prime Minister, Jacinda Arden, said “by making them freely available, we support these young people to continue learning at school.”
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Last year, an all-female motion on period poverty was passed in the Dail. This movement aims to provide free menstrual products to the public, while educating people on the problem. Dublin City Council also took action by allocating €100,000 of their budget to free products in council buildings.
While it is vital that governments, including our own, take action you can also help to fight against period poverty, regardless of whether or not you experienced it yourself.
Talking about periods and making this a normal conversation will help end the stigma around periods. This helps by removing the barrier of shame and embarrassment people who suffer from period poverty feel. Young girls will hopefully start to speak up about the products and help they need.
Ask for free period products to be provided in your school, college or job. By having pads and tampons in the bathrooms, nobody will feel uncomfortable asking for a pad. This sounds intimidating so try gather a group of people who support this to show a greater need for it.
Donating to charities makes sure that a homeless person doesn’t go without any products they need to get through their period. The Homeless Period Ireland (HPI), were set up in 2016 to help tackle period poverty. The donations they receive are brought to homeless outreach centres, direct provision centres and women’s refuges.
No matter your circumstances, the smallest things can help tackle period poverty. Nobody should ever feel unnecessary discomfort or embarrassment surrounding their period. If you are experiencing period poverty, know you are not alone and even just speaking to a friend about your situation could help.
Words: Emily Clarke