Period poverty explained - how you can help

Period poverty is something that affects women, girls and people who menstruate all over the world. It refers to not being able to afford or have access to period protection to manage bleeding. Along with access to products, this also includes access to hand washing stations, toilets, and basic hygienic waste management.

As a result, millions of people all over the world dread the arrival of their monthly bleed. Not only does it put them at risk of serious health problems, it can also impact education, safety and wellbeing.

Here, we explain the impacts of period poverty and share ideas for how you can help to end this crisis now.

What are the impacts of period poverty?


In some communities in countries like Nepal and India, women and girls are considered contaminated and unholy during their menstruation cycle. They are often banished from the house or locked in bathrooms as it's believed that menstruation will bring the family bad luck.

Women and young girls may be confined to a makeshift hut that lacks ventilation, resources and sanitation. This social sanction is known as chhaupadi - an ancient tradition practised in some parts of Nepal.

Chhaupadi is a tradition of “untouchability” where women are made to live away from the community and forbidden to touch other people and objects during menstruation.

Women can’t enter the family home, use the communal water supply, touch shared food and drinks, attend weddings or other religious gatherings. These practices lead to community stigma that makes women and girls feel persistent shame and fear during their periods. While chhaupadi has been illegal in Nepal since 2005, it is still practised in many communities.

Missing school

Period poverty affects a huge number of children in school.

Research by Plan International UK revealed that 49% of girls have missed a day of school due to their period. Each time a girl misses school due to menstruation, she loses out on education.

Not only are these girls missing out on learning, they're also missing out on activities they love that can help to build their confidence and skills. This can limit a girl's intellectual and social growth, and opportunities far beyond puberty.

With this in mind, it's not difficult to see why 44% of women that have experienced period poverty also struggle to find employment.

Unhygienic alternatives

Without access to period protection, women, girls and people who menstruate are forced to use items like dirty cloths, paper towels, toilet paper, or even cardboard. Often, they must re-use sanitary products for extended amounts of time.

When women and girls resort to unhygienic alternatives, they become vulnerable to harmful physical and mental outcomes.

Using products like dirty cloths, toilet paper and re-used sanitary products puts them at a heightened risk for infections, such as bacterial vaginosis and urinary tract infections. These infections result in skin irritations, vaginal itching and unusual discharge, which can lead to severe health issues if not treated properly.

Many women, girls and people who menstruate who are struggling with period poverty will not have the funds and access to seek medical care for these infections. While there are many physical consequences to unhygienic alternatives, the emotional toll can be just as traumatising.

Period poverty can lead to elevated anxiety and depression through having no choice but to use unhygienic alternatives.

Period poverty during the pandemic

Research by Plan International found that the Covid-19 pandemic is leaving many to struggle with managing their periods.

This research focused on professionals working in the field of menstrual hygiene management, water, sanitation, hygiene and sexual reproductive health rights. The survey revealed that women, girls and people who menstruate are facing:

  • Restricted access to products through shortages or disrupted supply chains

  • Restricted access to facilities to change, clean and dispose of period products

  • An increase in price of products

  • A lack of access to information and services

  • Reduced access to clean water to manage periods

  • A less hygienic environment for disposal of products

  • Increased stigma, shaming or harmful cultural practices

Writing on the Plan International UK website, its chief executive Rose Caldwell says: “Periods don’t stop for a pandemic, and whether we’re talking about girls in the UK, Rwanda, Australia or Nepal, the coronavirus crisis is making it harder for girls and young women to manage their periods safely and with dignity. “Many of the issues we're seeing existed before the pandemic, but the virus is making the situation worse. We already know that the coronavirus outbreak is having a devastating impact on family finances all over the world, but now we see that girls and women are also facing widespread shortages and price hikes on period products, with the result that many are being forced to make do with whatever they can find to manage their period. This can pose a real threat to their health and may increase the risk of infection. “On top of this, our experts on the frontline tell us that the stigma and shame girls face around their periods is also on the rise. Lack of access to clean water, lack of toilets with doors, and difficulties disposing of used products are just some of the challenges they face when trying to manage their periods in a private, safe and dignified manner. “Period stigma is both a cause and consequence of gender inequality and can have a serious impact on girls’ life chances. It’s therefore critical that governments and health agencies prioritise menstrual hygiene management in their response to the coronavirus crisis and treat sanitary products as essential items during the pandemic and beyond.”

How you can help to end period poverty

End the stigma around periods

One of the big issues surrounding period poverty is the stigma of menstruation. The good news is that you can help to end this stigma right now.

Talking about periods is one of the best ways to remove the shame that is often linked to menstruation. Be proud of your monthly bleed. Instead of treating periods as a secret, focus on the fact that they are a normal, healthy and essential bodily function.

For far too long, menstruation has often been viewed with disgust and seen as unclean. This prevents dialogue about access to products, questions about the female body and the ingredients in pads and tampons.

This situation is made worse by having only insertion-based products available in restrooms, no product disposal receptacles in stalls, and even situations where products are available for free, but a person must ask someone for access to the product.

Opening up conversations around periods with your friends, family and colleagues or classmates is an excellent way to end the shame around menstruation.

Another simple way to take action is through talking with your employer about having free access to period products in the bathroom at work. This can be something as simple as having a basket filled with a selection of tampons and pads.

Support organisations fighting period poverty

There are a number of organisations that donate menstrual products to people with periods who need them.


Cora is an organic tampon company that uses a portion of its monthly revenue to provide sustainable period management to people in need.

Through every purchase, Cora uses a percentage of profits to provide pads and health education to those in need through partners in India, Kenya, and the United States. This business model focuses on helping to support the economic infrastructure of the places Cora partners with and to empower the local women through employment and education opportunities.

Since 2016, Cora has donated over 10 million pads and helped provide reproductive health education to roughly 15,000 girls in Kenya and India.

Find out more about Cora

Days for Girls

Days for Girls is an international non-profit working to provide access to quality, sustainable hygiene and health education.

Through access to menstrual products and education, the organisation is also working to address global issues like gender inequality, clean water and sanitation, and quality education.

Days for Girls increases access to menstrual care and education by creating global partnerships, promoting social entrepreneurs, organising volunteer programs and updating sustainable solutions that shatter stigma and limitation for girls and women.

Find out more about Days for Girls

Binti Period

Binti Period is a charity that focuses on increasing accessibility to menstrual products and improving affordability. It does this by facilitating access to menstrual products and also by training women to make their own.

Binti Period also raises awareness about how to properly care for one’s body during menstruation and aims to decrease the stigma surrounding menstruation.

Binti Period’s mission revolves around safety and dignity, and it organises projects in India, Kenya, Swaziland, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Find out more about Binti Period

Get involved in your local community

Feminine hygiene products are rarely donated, and certainly not frequently enough to keep up with the demand. Because of this, many girls, women and people who menstruate facing period poverty do not have access to monthly supplies.

You can do a quick Google search to find places in your neighbourhood that need menstrual products. For example, local women’s shelters, soup kitchens and food banks are often in need of donations.

Donating products and raising funds can help to alleviate a serious need in your community. It's a good reminder that you don’t always need to look as far as you think to find someone in need. Every small act truly matters in the case of period poverty.


About our writer, Erica Breen

Erica is a life-long mover and forever student. Trained in Pilates, yoga and Ayurveda, Erica has a breadth of knowledge when it comes to the human body and its inner workings. Leading a nomadic lifestyle, you'll find Erica sharing her work online from all over the world!

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