More and more countries around the world are reimbursing or providing free menstrual protection for women. However, millions of girls and women still experience so-called “period poverty” – those who don’t have access to the safe, hygienic menstrual products they need, and/or who are unable to manage their periods with dignity.
To mark World Menstrual Hygiene Day today, here are some key figures reflecting the scale and impact of period poverty worldwide.
Negative health effects
A new report from Plan International, an NGO dedicated to advancing children’s rights and equality for girls, estimates that over 500 million girls and women worldwide don’t have what they need to manage their period, whether that’s sanitary pads or access to a clean toilet.
Even as this can have serious consequences on their physical and mental health, the current economic and humanitarian crises could push this figure even higher.
A sexual health issue
To mark World Menstrual Hygiene Day, Plan International Australia examined the impact of humanitarian crises on period poverty, through a survey of 168 frontline experts working alongside women and girls in 48 of the NGO’s national and regional offices.
More than half the respondents (51.6%) reported the use of makeshift materials, such as used cloth or rags, to make up for the lack of menstrual protection, and more than a fifth (22.9%) said that adolescent girls engage in survival sex to be able to pay for menstrual health products.
The cost of a car
There are no official figures for cost outlays relating to menstrual hygiene, but several estimates compare the average cost over a lifetime to that of a car, new or used, depending on the calculation.
In France, a report published by the National Assembly estimates that women spend between €8,000 (RM40,000) and €23,000 on menstruation over the course of their lives. This cost is based on an average of five menstruation days per month, at a rate of five menstrual pads per day, over a period of 38 years.
It further takes into account the replacement of underwear and bed linen, as well as the possible purchase of painkillers and checkups with a gynaecologist.
A study conducted by Plan International Australia estimates that women spend an average of AU$10,000 (RM30,000) on menstrual products over the course of their lifetimes, not including pain relief.
And in the United Kingdom, research reported by HuffPost puts the figure at £18,450 (RM104,800), including sanitary protection, painkillers and new underwear.
Affecting school attendance?
A report published in 2014 by Unesco notes that a lack of facilities in schools can lead to absenteeism among menstruating girls, although it is difficult to establish an exact link between periods and school absences.
However, a number of studies – including in India and certain African countries – highlight the impact of period poverty and lack of facilities on girls’ school attendance, whether in terms of absenteeism or dropping out of school altogether.
Moreover, Unicef reports that one in three schools worldwide does not have “adequate toilets”, and that 23% of schools have no toilets at all. This makes good menstrual hygiene difficult, if not impossible, to manage.