What is period poverty?

Period poverty is the lack of access to menstrual hygiene products, sanitation facilities, toilets, handwashing areas, and education around menstruation. Period poverty can mean that people are unable to afford pads and tampons and may be forced to use other materials to manage their periods such as cardboard, rags, toilet paper, and leaves. This can cause harm to someone’s physical, emotional, and mental health.

Who is most impacted by period poverty?

In the United States, period poverty disproportionately impacts menstruators who are low-income, experiencing housing insecurity, transgender, non-binary, differently abled, or incarcerated. Globally, 500 million people lack access to sanitation products, washing facilities, and waste management. In the United States, 16.9 million people who menstruate live in poverty.

What is the impact of period poverty?

There is a significant financial, social, emotional, and physical burden that is caused by period poverty. Menstruators can face social stigma and isolation, with many experiencing missed school or work as they find it increasingly difficult to safely manage their periods. Lack of access to appropriate hygiene products can cause menstruators to improvise with unsafe and unclean materials that can cause urinary tract infections and other medical problems. People who menstruate face a financial burden. All but 15 states impose a tax on menstruation products and are excluded from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) benefits.

What is the mental health and social cost of period poverty?

Menstruators who experience period poverty can find themselves isolated and lonely, which brings an increased risk for developing moderate to severe depression symptoms along with other mental health challenges. The shame and social stigma associated with periods can create feelings of disempowerment amongst those who menstruate. This can cause avoidance of normal social and recreational activities and an embarrassment about a normal biological process. This can negatively impact people’s ability to live a healthy, fulfilling, and enjoyable life.

We should normalize talking openly about periods and the harm that period poverty causes. This will allow for a more healthy discussion around improved solutions to increase access and equity in period care.

About the Author: Emily Reynolds is a licensed professional counselor and is interested in increasing awareness around the social determinants of health which include the intersection of physical, emotional, and mental health.

No More Secrets works to decrease uterine care and menstrual health disparities in underserved communities through the eradication of societal stigmas and propagation of resources and scientifically based information. They opened the nation’s first menstrual hub, “The SPOT Period,” in Germantown Philadelphia to provide a safe space for marginalized women and girls. “SPOT” (Safety, Programming, Optimal Transformation) functions as a safe welcoming space providing acceptance, understanding, education, period care, menstrual hygiene resources and aids the community at reaching its full potential.