Changing the World to End Period Poverty – By Candice Chirwa, Minister of Menstruation

On any day, more than half of the population between the ages of 15 and 49 are menstruating worldwide. It is estimated that more than 800 million women, girls and menstruators have their periods every month. And for me, although I find my period to be a minor nuisance, I, fortunately, am afforded the ability to manage my period in a safe and hygienic way. I had the benefit of having a conversation (very awkward, but a conversation nonetheless) with my mother who talked to me about it when I was 10 years old. I went to a school that covered menstruation from a biological point of view, and I was lucky to have access to a private toilet with a sink, dustbin and menstrual health products.

Now, if you’re reading this and you’re a person who menstruates and realized that you too had the same experience, then trust me when I say our period experience is luxurious. I want you for a second to reflect on what you would do, if you did not have any access to toilet paper. You’d probably think and use a piece of paper or cloth. But I further ask, what if you didn’t have access to paper or cloth? And this was your reality every single day?  What if you didn’t have access to a sanitary pad, a tampon, a menstrual cup, a reusable pad or period underwear, what would you use? A cloth? Newspaper? Tissue? A sock? That bleeds through too quickly. Sand? Leaves? Used rags? That can cause an infection. So what is the alternative for a young girl who has limited access to period products? She stays at home and the consequences of not having access to period poverty means that a young girl will miss one or more days of school which ultimately impacts their education. This means that many people who menstruate around the world, will at some stage in their life sacrifice school, work, and social activities.

Menstruation is a shared experience amongst people who menstruate and yet it is a widely stigmatized issue. It is a topic that is still met with awkwardness and silence and is only spoken about behind closed doors. The implication of this silence leads to a lack of policy that speaks to educational programs, access to period products and policies to address period poverty. If it becomes law that period products are free of charge to the communities that need them, and are easily accessible with empowering education, then just imagine how a period-positive world becomes a realistic idea. There is more to be done – especially on the state level. Our governments can and should play an important role in the de-stigmatisation of menstruation. Perception of menstruation is affected by government policies in education, development, business, taxes and healthcare. Governments need to recognize that period products are essential items and should not have to break the bank. Beyond providing access to products, we also need better puberty, sex and period education for young people in schools so that young menstruators are not reduced to suffering alone in silence.

But you’re probably wondering what you can do in your own capacity to end period poverty. It starts with speaking openly about periods by including normalising menstruation through science-based, age-appropriate education at school, home and in the community. By having these conversations it provides a reflection on the varied experiences menstruators go through from a monthly basis, but it will bring awareness to broader society to challenge current laws that impart unfair and inequitable taxes on menstrual products and supplies. You can also provide assistance whether it be volunteering, donating to period organisations, we all have a social responsibility in ending period poverty through ending our own stigmas and biases towards menstrual health.


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