What is Period Poverty?
Girls and women in low-income communities face many challenges when it comes to menstruation, and we refer to these challenges as period poverty. Period poverty means lack of access to period products such as pads, tampons, underwear and pain medication.
Period poverty impacts all girls and women living on low incomes, even those in wealthy nations. But those living in the world’s poorest countries are most affected.
Having access to a restroom, people to talk to who understand and clean materials to use for menstrual hygiene are basic necessities for managing a period. Sadly, these basics aren’t available for many girls and women.
As a Christian nonprofit charity dedicated to releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name, Compassion partners with churches in low- and middle-income countries to confront all aspects of poverty — including period poverty.
How Does Period Poverty Affect Society?
Period poverty is not only a women’s health issue; it is a human rights issue affecting girls’ and women’s safety, education for girls, economic equality and mental health.
The average woman will menstruate for 3,000 days in her lifetime. That works out to more than eight years!
Period Poverty and Human Rights
Because every human has intrinsic rights by virtue of their God-given dignity, menstruation and period poverty matter deeply for human rights and Christian principles. When people have inadequate access to safe hygiene facilities and other means of managing their menstrual hygiene, their dignity is not honored.
One in three people in the world doesn’t have access to adequate sanitation. This means 1.25 billion women around the world can't access a toilet during their periods1 and aren’t able to manage their menstrual hygiene with dignity.
Girls need sanitary products, clean water to wash themselves or their menstrual cloths and a place to dispose of their sanitary pads if they are using them. But because many women and girls can't access these hygiene essentials to maintain their cleanliness, health and dignity, they're forced to use items like newspapers, toilet paper, socks and plastic bags.
In India, just 12% of girls and women have access to commercial sanitary products.
Girls living in poverty often miss school while on their period. When a girl doesn’t have feminine hygiene care products and her school doesn’t have a toilet or safe facilities for managing menstrual hygiene, it makes it nearly impossible to attend class while menstruating.
UNICEF estimates that 1 in 10 school-age girls in Sub-Saharan Africa does not attend school during menstruation.2 This puts girls at an immediate disadvantage and can lead to lower grades. Some may eventually drop out of school altogether.
Twenty-eight percent of adolescent girls in Uganda3 and Ghana4 don’t go to school when they have their period. This means they miss an average of four days of school each month, or 20% of the school year.
“It’s hard for some girls to buy their period supplies due to the lack of money. Because of that, they miss school exams if they can’t keep themselves clean and safe. Over time, some of them feel so discouraged that they abandon school.” — Jacqueline, a Compassion center director in Togo
Period poverty makes the vulnerabilities of poverty even worse, pushing low-income women and girls into behavior harmful to their well-being.
Studies by the United Nations Population Fund found that young people in Kenya were so desperate that they engaged in transactional sex to get the menstrual hygiene products they needed.
Another safety issue stems from a lack of toilet facilities. Since girls and women need restrooms more often for menstrual hygiene management, this puts them at increased risk when toilet facilities don’t exist or are unsafe to use.
Romelyn, a girl in Compassion’s child development program in the Philippines, had no choice but to relieve herself and manage her menstruation behind sugarcane plants because her family had no toilet.
“It was really demeaning, very uncomfortable and quite scary. At nights when I needed to go, I had to wake my mother or my sisters up to go with me into the field ... I wouldn’t dare go there alone.” — Romelyn, a Compassion-assisted youth
Romelyn’s family was able to get a toilet in their home with the support of Compassion. But women and girls worldwide still fear for their safety while going to the bathroom. “The World Bank estimates that 500 million women and girls globally lack access to adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene management."5
Difficulty affording menstrual products puts an added strain on families, especially those who already struggle to afford enough food, safe water, medicine and other essentials.
Just as menstruating without period products keeps many girls out of school, it also keeps many women home from work. From falling behind in class or performing poorly on exams to losing a job, missing work or school has short- and long-term consequences on their families’ economic opportunities.
Every day hundreds of millions of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 are menstruating. And yet, in some cultures, menstruation is stigmatized, shrouded in silence, secrecy and shame.
Silence, stigmas and taboos around menstruation directly affect a girl’s dignity, confidence and self-esteem. In cultures that don’t talk about periods openly, many girls never hear of menstruation until their first period, making it a confusing and scary experience. That's the reality for an incredible 68% of girls in Ghana who knew nothing about menstruation when they started their periods.6
Menstruation-related teasing, neglect and exclusion assault human dignity and can negatively affect mental health, causing girls to experience isolation, shame and loneliness.
Because of taboos around menstruation, girls are often told they can’t do certain things while on their period. Women in the semi-nomadic Maasai region of Kenya are not allowed to enter goat pens or milk cows while they menstruate. And in many southeast Asian communities, menstruating girls are not permitted to use the same water facilities as the rest of the community. These restrictions add to the isolation, shame and loneliness of menstruation.
Facts and Figures About Period Poverty
Every month, 1.8 billion people across the world menstruate.7
In sub-Saharan Africa, about 1 in 10 girls misses school during her menstrual cycle.2
About 50% of school-age girls in Kenya don’t have access to menstrual products.2
Gender inequality, discriminatory social norms, cultural taboos, poverty and lack of basic services like toilets and sanitary products can all cause menstrual health and hygiene needs to go unmet.7
In Rwanda, many girls and women miss up to 50 days of school or work every year because of period poverty and the taboos surrounding menstruation.8
Half of schools worldwide lack clean water, toilets and handwashing9 — a particular problem for girls during menstruation.
The COVID-19 pandemic increased poverty and disrupted supply chains, making it even harder for some people to access or afford period products.10
Worldwide, 2.3 billion people lack basic sanitation services. In the least-developed countries, only 27% of people have a handwashing facility with water and soap at home.11
How is Compassion Working to End Period Poverty?
Compassion works to end period poverty through community advocacy, helping people in poverty access safe bathrooms, educating young people about menstrual health, and training young people and their families in income generation so they can afford period products.
Our local church partners innovatively address period poverty. For example, a village in Uganda is combating period poverty in a unique way; the Compassion center in the community inspired many parents of children in our Child Sponsorship Program to sew reusable menstrual pads, giving many a new source of income while providing local women and girls with essential products.
At Compassion centers, teachers are educating and supporting girls and young women to break down menstruation taboos and ensure they have the period products they need.
Our local church partners are committed to ensuring that every participant in our programs is cared for in every area and feels known, loved and connected. The child development center workers and church leaders running the programs know each and every young person they serve, investing in them personally and relationally as friends and mentors.In our regular program activities, participants receive tutoring, regular health checkups, nutritious meals, individualized attention, Scripture lessons and training for their futures. The tutors, pastors, center directors, volunteers and other workers at the centers see the dignity in every young person they serve — the dignity that God instilled in them when they were knit together in their mother’s womb.
These staff and volunteers work to honor that dignity in every girl, helping her overcome period poverty and every other challenge and vulnerability she may face.
Encourage a child in poverty and help her see her God-given dignity — sponsor a girl today!