28th of May, is Menstrual Hygiene Day – a day all about tackling the stigma associated with periods – and we at The Cup Effect think you can’t really talk about periods without talking about period poverty. The term ‘period poverty’ is being used more and more frequently but what exactly does period poverty mean and what are the effects for those who experience it?
I’m sure most of us have been unexpectedly caught by our periods arriving at a bad time and we don’t have the right products with us right there and then. It can make for an uncomfortable and anxious few hours. Imagine what it would be like to have no cup, no pads or no tampons for the entirety of your period. Pretty horrible stuff, but this is something thousands of women experience every day. Being unable to afford period products is detrimental to a woman’s quality of life; it can affect their confidence and their ability to contribute to society.
In simple terms, period poverty is when people are unable to afford suitable period products due to a lack of financial resources. Anyone who has ever bought a pack of pads or tampons knows the price can be a pinch, but for people who are already struggling financially, both in the UK and abroad, period products can be unaffordable and unattainable. And, it is those who are the most vulnerable who suffer the hardest: women with low incomes, women who have become homeless, women living in refugee camps.
Unfortunately, period poverty in the UK is much more common than you might imagine. According to Plan International, 10 percent of girls in the UK have been unable to afford period products – that’s at least two girls in every school class in the country. On to of that, 137,300 children in the UK have missed school because of period poverty and many more have struggled to concentrate whilst on their periods because they can’t afford the right products.
Looking beyond the UK, we can see that period poverty is prevalent around the world. It is estimated that almost half of all women who live in developing countries do not have access to period products. There are school-age-girls in some of the world’s lowest income communities who miss school 20 percent of the time as a result of inadequate access to period products. Period poverty is not just about female discomfort but female exclusion from education, the workplace and society; it denies women opportunities and can further contribute to a cycle of poverty.
When women don’t have access to suitable period products they might decide to improvise, using materials such as old cloth, bark or even newspapers. Aside from being an unreliable and uncomfortable experience, it also brings the risk of physical health problems such as infection. This further highlights that period poverty needs to be urgently addressed for the sake of women’s health.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the cost of periods isn’t just about the price of a packet of pads. Periods can be messy and leave you with underwear that needs replacing. Periods can be painful which means you need painkillers to keep functioning. These are costs that all add up. Some people can afford these things and some cannot and for those who cannot, the whole experience is made even more difficult. It’s not just about having something to soak up the blood but making sure that everyone can get through that time of the month with dignity, comfort and confidence.
If you’ve got this far, I’m sure you’d agree that period poverty is pretty terrible and you probably want to know what you can do about it. One thing you can do right now is buy a cup from our shop! Not only will this save you thousands of pounds over the course of your life, but for every cup you buy from The Cup Effect, two cups are donated to people who can’t afford the period products they need. What’s more, during the month of May this number goes up to three! By ensuring all women have adequate access to these products, we can fight period poverty and provide opportunities to women all around the world.
Katrina Gaffney is a Cup Effect Volunteer Writer and a Media, Campaigning and Social Change Masters Student at the University of Westminster. She is an intersectional feminist who cares about human rights and peace campaigning. She also loves baking and can often be found cooking up a storm in the kitchen!