The Problem with Period Poverty- Aria Shaffer

I don't understand why it's so hard for girls to have casual conversations about their periods. If it's a natural thing that happens to every girl and woman's body every month, why has it not been normalized? I don't understand why it’s especially hard to talk to guys about periods either. Why do I feel so uncomfortable talking to my dad or brother about it? Even though they don't experience the same things or know as much, I don't see a reason why we can’t have a normal conversation about it without feeling weird or wrong. I don't understand why periods are considered dirty or shameful, When it's just a biological change in a female’s body if making it possible to reproduce and perpetuate our very own species.


Like Jen Gunter, an OB/GYN, pain medicine physician said, “It shouldn't be an act of feminism to know how your body works or to ask for help when you are suffering.” What good does it do if women can't share their experiences with each other and understand their periods and body's better. What good does it do to teach young girls to be ashamed of their own bodies even if it's a completely natural process that happens to every female? “If a young girl is taught to be ashamed of their own body, imagine what this does to their self-esteem and self-confidence. Imagine the psychological trauma that affects her personality, academic performance, and every single aspect of growing up during her early formative years.” Says Aditi Gupta, a co-founder of Menstrpedia.


In my opinion, this is one of the driving causes of women's oppression. According to the United Nations Population fund, “Period shame and misinformation undermine the well-being of women and girls, making them vulnerable to gender discrimination, child marriage, exclusion, violence, poverty, and untreated health problems.”


Menstrual hygiene is a very important risk factor for reproductive tract infections, and one of the reasons why I decided to become part of the “Hygiene for Her movement”. According to data from the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 500 million people experience period poverty around the world. In a survey 2019 two thirds of respondents of low-income women in St. Louis, MO, were unable to afford period products at least once a year, of which 20% each month. A survey of 1,000 U.S. students published in October 2019 by the period equity organization “Period.org” in collaboration with period underwear company “Thinx” also found that one in five teens have struggled to afford, or not been able to purchase, period products, and 25% have missed class because of lack of access to period products. As you can see, period poverty has become a huge problem not only in the US but all around the world. Period poverty affects women's access to education and work-life and has become a barrier to equality.


The inability to attain or afford the proper and adequate menstrual products and the toxic stigma associated with menstruation is called period poverty, and the root cause behind this problem is lack of information and awareness about menstruation. You will be astonished to find that you probably don't know as much as you think you do about menstruation.To end this terrible problem of lack of education, this most important thing is to break the shameful taboo and stigma surrounding menstruation that unfortunately hinders women's access to education about their own bodies. “If the school doesn't want to talk about it, if parents don't want to talk about it, and if your friends don't want to talk about it, where do the girls go?”(Gupta).


Image: fizzymag.com


The process of creating an environment where young girls and women feel comfortable talking and learning about menstruation and how can menstruation cease to be a taboo is something that I find extremely important, and another reason why I decided to join “Hygiene for her”. The fact that about 500 million women experience period poverty worldwide is disturbing. According to The New York Times, tampons are subject to sales tax in 34 states across the U.S, making them more expensive. Legal challenges to achieve menstrual equity and remove taxes in 22 states have made little progress in 2019. Nadya Okamoto, co-founder of Period.org says, “No matter where you're living if you can't afford basic necessities, the extra expense of menstrual products is difficult.”“If periods aren’t a luxury, why are they taxed like one?” Says Dr. Anne Sebert Kuhlmann, an associate professor of behavioral science and health education at Saint Louis University.


Everybody, both Men and Women need to help take action, to end period poverty and break the negative taboo that surrounds menstruation. Participate in rallies, and publicize this issue on social media. "Write to your members of Congress about federal legislation to ensure menstrual access. Write to your state representatives, because there are many fights right now at the state level to ensure menstrual access in prisons and schools. Go to the local town council, the local school board, and the town library," says Weiss-Wolf, co-founder of Period Equity, an organization that fights for menstrual equity in the U.S., and author of Periods Gone Public: Taking A Stand For Menstrual Equity.


There are many actions you can take to help raise awareness and normalize menstruation. You can help take down the wall of period poverty, and help create an environment where young women are not ashamed of their own bodies and feel less then. A place where both women and men can talk comfortably and learn about menstruation. A place that does not allow the idea of periods being shameful or dirty stop women from becoming educated about their own bodies, and finally a place where feminine hygiene products can be dubbed as a female necessity rather than a luxury. It's so incredibly important that female hygiene products become more accessible and affordable for all women, and women become better educated about their own bodies.


It all starts with you, so what will you do to end period poverty and spread period positivity?


Written by Aria Shaffer


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