GENEVA, May 28, 2022 – On Menstrual Hygiene Day, the global partnership Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) calls for an end to menstrual poverty which affects more than 500 million people worldwide.
Every day, 800 million people around the world have their period. The average woman will spend 3,000 days menstruate during her lifetime.
Although a normal part of life, the topic of menstruation is considered uncomfortable. Millions of menstruating women around the world quietly struggle with “period poverty” – induced by the high price of hygiene products such as tampons, pads or panty liners. These costs reinforce gender inequalities and constitute major barriers to social and economic potential.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, more than a third of girls aged 14 to 21 in the UK struggled to afford or access menstrual products – an increase on previous years despite efforts to cut costs.
In the USA, two-thirds of low-income women could not afford menstrual products in the past year.
Moreover, according to data from the Observatorio Villero de al Poderosa, 6 out of 10 women in Argentina have stopped buying sanitary products to buy food.
Recent studies show that the stress of menstrual poverty can also impact anxiety and depression in women.
Despite lobbying efforts by activists around the world, many countries still engage in a systemic discrimination known as the “tampon tax,” which classifies menstrual products as luxury and non-essential, illustrating the gendered impact supposedly “neutral” legal and tax structures. In some countries, this tax is between 20 and 30%.
Affordable menstrual health is a major public health and human rights issue, and a matter of dignity for many low-income menstruators. Shrouded in ignorance and misinformation, periods are taboo subjects, not to be discussed openly. Since men make up the majority of world leaders, including health leaders, menstrual health is left out of health policies, plans and budgets.
In this very concrete way, the imbalance of political power between the sexes in decision-making roles leads to inequalities in access to education and wealth. It can literally be deadly, as menstruators living in poverty resort to reusing old products, newspapers, toilet paper, socks, rags, sheets, mud and other materials.
Additionally, too many women and girls have been forced to sacrifice school, work, and social situations because they lack the means to manage their period safely. Women also lose wage and education opportunities due to absences related to menstrual pain and other menstrual health issues.
Slowly but surely, more and more countries are making progress. Thanks to activists and political leaders, governments are increasingly developing policies to make sanitary products more accessible. Not only through tax reduction, but also through other measures such as subsidies or free distribution.
This change is resonating around the world. Colombia removed all taxes on pads and tampons, extending the exemption to menstrual cups. In 2020, Scotland became the first country in the world to provide free tampons and sanitary napkins. France launched a pilot program that offers free products to students, placing distributors on campuses across the country. Nepalalso distributes free sanitary napkins in schools in hopes of reducing absenteeism.
Making menstrual products affordable is not only a necessary step towards equality, but a crucial step in breaking down the barriers that stigmatize menstruation.
On this Menstrual Hygiene Day, we call on governments around the world to tackle menstrual poverty head-on. This means eliminating any legislation that contributes to gender discrimination, such as removing the stamp tax or applying exceptions or 0% VAT rates to these essential basic goods.
We call for increased support for movements that promote the widespread availability of sanitation supplies and investment in programs that offer complementary feminine hygiene supplies in spaces such as schools, homeless shelters and for menstruators from low-income settings. These measures would have immeasurable benefits for menstruating women and would be a major step towards equality.
Menstruation may only happen to a portion of the population, but a safe, hygienic, and dignified period benefits us all.
ABOUT SANITATION AND WATER FOR ALL
Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) is a multi-stakeholder partnership between governments and their partners in civil society, the private sector, UN agencies, research and learning institutions and the philanthropic community. Together, SWA partners stimulate high-level policy dialogue – at national, regional and global levels – and coordinate and monitor progress towards sanitation, water and hygiene related targets of the Development Goals sustainable development of the United Nations. For more information, visit www.sanitationandwaterforall.org.
Sanitation and Water for All (SWA)