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Period poverty is still a thing – how can we address it?

What’s happening? Up to 85,000 Irish women and girls may be struggling to access period products, according to a government discussion paper. The Period Poverty in Ireland report says that those in vulnerable groups, such as the Traveller and Roma communities and the homeless, are least able to access sanitary towels and tampons, washing and waste management facilities, and menstrual education. It outlines several steps that could be taken to improve access, such as negotiating with the EU for zero VAT on newer period products, taking measures to reduce stigma around menstruation and conducting more research on levels of period poverty. (Irish Examiner)

The bigger picture –The average person who menstruates has around 450 periods during their lifetime, so access to period products shouldn’t be considered a luxury – they’re a necessity. People all around the world can suffer period poverty, so it’s an essential issue to tackle.

There’s been some attempts to alleviate the issue, most notably in Scotland where period products were recently made free for anyone who needs them. Other countries, such as Germany and England, have reduced or cut taxes on these items. Even with tax cuts, however, some people still cannot afford the products they need. There’s also been moves to make period products freely available in schools, but uptake can be slow.

The Covid-19 pandemic has made the problem worse. Lockdowns have led to an increased struggle to access period products, due to shortages, supply chain issues, price increases and loss of income.

Why does this matter? Poverty itself is linked to mental health issues, so it’s unsurprising that people unable to access period products are at a greater risk of depression and anxiety. An inability to safely manage periods can also lead to health problems. For example, some people resort to using items such as rags, clothing, toilet paper, newspaper and even plastic bags, which can cause discomfort and increase the risk of rashes and infections.

There is still a lot of stigma attached to periods and many people, particularly in developing countries or in ethnic minority groups, still face discrimination or shame because of menstruation. Contributing to the issue is a lack of education or willingness to talk about periods – alongside inadequate sanitation facilities.

Period poverty and stigma can also lead to people missing school or work. Even when they can attend, they often feel they need to be secretive when visiting the bathroom to change a pad or tampon.

A potential solution – Disposable period products harm the environment. They are often, for example, wrapped in plastic, while many tampons incorporate plastic applicators and pads with leak-proof bases and synthetics to soak up fluid. This issue has driven the development of more sustainable period products such as menstrual cups, period pants or washable pads.

Not only are these solutions undoubtedly better for the environment, they also present an opportunity to tackle period poverty. Encouraging their use by giving them freely to those most in need – as is being done in Scotland – means people will always have period products to hand when they need them.

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Nicola Watts

Health Care Curator

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