The term “period poverty” refers to troubled or limited access to sanitary products for women and girls during their monthly menstruation period. The issue produces a negative impact on multiple aspects of a woman’s life, including private hygiene and overall health, personal dignity, and living standards.
Contrary to popular belief, period poverty is not inclusively a challenge of the developing countries. In fact, many advanced societies are also struggling to find a fair way to ensure women can face respectable conditions and unproblematic access to period product supply.
Unsurprisingly, the coronavirus pandemic had worsened the situation even further, making it a financial challenge for many women to afford to take care of basic bodily hygiene during menstruation.
Nowadays, an increasing number of organizations are addressing the issue and are looking for a sustainable solution to ease access to hygienic products for girls and women all over the globe. How is the process going so far, and what is to be done in the future to resolve the problem? We’ve summed some vital information up in the following paragraphs.
Period poverty in the UK
When looking for some good examples, the UK is a fine place to start. The first step governmental and non-profit organizations around the UK took towards resolving the period poverty issue was addressing and evaluating it in the first place. So what did the research figures report?
According to a survey conducted by Plan International UK:
- One in ten girls have been regularly incapable of affording hygienic period products;
- One in ten girls reported to had used improvised or hand-made sanitary wear;
- One in seven girls have had to borrow hygienic products from a friend because of financial concerns;
- Over 137,000 girls across the UK have missed at least one school day because of period poverty.
During a 2019 meeting of the Congress, some measures had been suggested to address the issue of period poverty and its consequences for females – on both personal and societal levels.
In theory and practice, they include:
- Providing free sanitary products to female hospital patients;
- Offering free hygienic products in local authority buildings for both the staff and the visitors;
- Giving out free period products in schools and universities around the country;
- Abolishing the 5% “tampon tax” for women’s sanitary products from January 2021.
As of 2021, Scotland is the first country in the world to offer free, unlimited access to sanitary products for women. Period products are also free in all primary and secondary schools in England. It seems like the government tackles this issue more successfully than closing the gender pay gap. However, hopefully, more countries will follow the UK lead in the years to come making it less of a challenge to cope with a natural occurrence every woman goes through every month for approximately half of her lifetime.
The “Tampon Tax” in Europe
The “tampon tax” is a term used to describe the practice of taxing feminine hygiene products with value-added taxes or sales taxes. What’s the problem with that? The problem is: products that are widely accepted to be a “vital necessity” are usually granted a special tax exemption status.
So, are period products a luxury or a basic necessity?
We suggest you ask this question to any random woman, in case you are not one, and wait for the answer if you don’t have it already.
Back to reality, almost all European countries still have the “tampon tax,” with Ireland and the UK being the only exceptions by now. The rest of the EU member states differ significantly in their tax rates for period products. Statista had gathered data from Eurostat and different media reports, and the results can definitely raise a brow.
Ladies and gentlemen, as of 2020, “the tampon tax” across EU member states is as follows:
- 3 to 9% in countries such as France, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Lithuania, Portugal, and others;
- 10 to 15% in countries such as Italy, Spain, Austria, Slovakia, and others;
- 16 to 20% in countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Albania, and others;
- More than 20% in countries such as Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Latvia, Greece, Croatia, and Hungary. Hungary is exhibiting the highest rate – the skyrocketing 27%.
Some of the EU countries listed above are engaged in an ongoing debate on reducing “the tampon tax,” including Spain and Switzerland.
You will find more infographics at Statista.
Anyway, the period poverty dispute is taking an optimistic turn around Europe, with EU countries planning to remove their minimum 5% tax rate by 2022. Okay… But what about those who are still light years away from going below 5%?
Meanwhile, girls in developing countries face even more challenging issues.
While women throughout Europe face mostly financial issues, the situation is way more complicated in developing countries. Limited access to unpolluted water, lack of sanitation and hygiene infrastructure, disrupted access to sanitation materials, and period taboos make women’s lives even harder in many countries in the world.
In Tajikistan, for example, some of the most pressing issues include the building of safe and gender-separated sanitation facilities, the ongoing delivery and distribution of soap and toilet paper, and the production of educational materials on the general subject of menstruation.
Meanwhile, in Mozambique, only 8% of females complete school, and none of their schools even have adequate sanitation facilities. That’s why the Urban Sanitation Project is currently running a series of hygiene promotion activities that explain the importance of personal hygiene to both teachers and their students throughout the country.
In Eswatini, people are also struggling to ensure the construction of gender-separated facilities with door locks in schools. There, most pupils currently don’t use disposal bins or hand washing stations, while period hygiene is widely underestimated in both adults and children.
Long story short:
The period poverty issue is present in many locations worldwide, each going through a different phase right now. From basic hygiene education to guaranteeing free access to period sanitation products – the process goes through multiple stages and the more engaged we are as a society, the faster the progress.
Because, in case you hadn’t asked a woman yet – yes, period products are not a luxury, but a basic necessity.