By Elise Renkema
As you are reading this right now, around 800 million people are on their periods. With so many people experiencing this on a monthly basis, one would expect it to be normalised by now. Yet, there still seem to be taboos surrounding menstruating. This taboo and shame surrounding menstruation has, among other factors, led to a lack of access to menstrual products. Another major factor is poverty. In India, for example, only around 12% of the women have access to pads, tampons, and other period products. Even in countries as seemingly prosperous as the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands, periods intersect with poverty.
This past month, two different organisations (Plan Internationaland De Bovengrondse) published reports on period poverty in the Netherlands. It reported that around one tenth of girls under 25 regularly do not have enough money to buy menstrual products. More than half agrees that menstrual products are too expensive. Plan International also published a report about the UK earlier this year, in which they concluded that almost half of girls between 14 and 21 have missed an entire day of school due to not having menstrual products.
So what exactly is period poverty? De Bovengrondse divides the issue up into three aspects: access to products to collect blood, adequate sanitary facilities, and knowledge about menstruation and health issues around menstruation. Period poverty in the Netherlands is particularly prevalent under women living on the poverty line, homeless women, and undocumented women. In the Netherlands, around 600.000 people live below the poverty line.De Voedselbank (‘food bank’; organisation that donates food to people living under the poverty line) does not include menstrual products in their packages, because products without an expiration date are often not donated.
A comfortable and safe menstruation is vital to anyone menstruating, and this is not possible without having access to sufficient products. Without these products, women are not able to participate in society fully. For example, girls who do not have menstrual products often do not feel comfortable going to school. Besides this, it is important to take care of yourself and your hygiene when you are on your period. Wearing tampons for too long, for example, can lead to toxic shock syndrome, which can be fatal. Cheap pads often are of lower quality and are made of a material that is not as mild as cotton-based pads. Preventing leakage by using toilet paper or tissues also brings multiple health problems.
The costs of a period differ greatly per person. Some women menstruate for three days, while others are on their period up to ten days. Besides this, the intensity of a period can also vary. In the research De Bovengrondse did, the average costs of one period are estimated around 8 euros. With longer, more intense periods, the costs of one menstruation can go up to 20 euros. These costs can also include painkillers. The painkillers made to ease menstrual pain are considerably more expensive than a simple paracetamol. In a study the Radboud University did, 85% of women expressed that their menstrual pain affected their daily functioning. Using pain killers can then be a way to be able to continue their daily life while on their periods. How expensive products are is relevant to personal circumstances. Expenses of 8 euros for one period is a lot on a weekly budget of 50 euros. With a limited budget, one has to prioritise some products over others. One woman participating in De Bovengrondse’s research indicated: ‘I can then not buy as much food for my child, because of which I feel really bad.’ Another woman explained: ‘With the amount I spend on menstrual products, I can buy an entire meal’.
One short-term solution to at least the economic problem can be to offer menstrual products in public buildings, such as schools. The United Kingdom will offer free menstrual products in middle schools from 2020 onwards, while Wales will make menstrual products free on every level of education, and Scotland will offer menstrual products in every public building at every level of education. Another solution can be to include menstrual products in insurances. Recently, the LMDE insurance in France became the first insurance to reimburse menstrual products. A third solution could lie in taxes. In several countries, tampons and pads are being taxed as luxury goods, rather than necessary products. Australia and Germany recently changed this much-discussed ‘tampon tax’. In Germany, the tax on tampons will change from 19% to 7%. The reimbursement of birth control can also be a solution to this issue, as taking birth control pills or getting an IUD can lead to having less blood and pain, and sometimes even prevent menstruation from occurring. This can be a preferred method for women experiencing severe period pain. Birth control is not in the current ‘basic insurance’ of the Dutch government, though there are several action to include it again, and Bureau Clara Wichmann is currently suing the Dutch government for free birth control. More public bathrooms will also help to prevent periods from disturbing daily life, as access to a toilet is necessary every 3-4 hours when using pads or tampons.
Period poverty is not just an economical problem, but also a social and educational one. Women who are not able to afford menstrual products often feel ashamed about their situation. To address this, more education on periods is necessary to break this taboo. Education should start as early as primary schools. Lack of education about periods can make experiencing menstruation unnecessarily difficult and even dangerous for your health. It is therefore of great importance to open up the conversation about periods as much as possible.
Elise Renkema, Class of 2020, is a Politics and Law major from The Hague, the Netherlands.
Disclaimer: In this article, the word ‘woman’ can be read as anyone experiencing menstruation.
- You can calculate the days of your life you would have missed without sufficient menstrual products here: https://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2018/10/health/period-poverty-calcuator-asequals-intl/(on Safari)
- You can donate to Het Damesverband here: https://hetdamesverband.nl/deactie
- You can donate to the law case of Bureau Clara Wichmann to make birth control free here: https://eenzaakvooriedereen.nl/
BBC News. (2019, 13 March). Free sanitary products promised for schools. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-47553449
CNN. (2019, 8 November). Tampons will no longer be taxed as luxury items, after landmark German vote.
De Bovengrondse. (2019). Rapport Onderzoek Verkenning van Menstruatiearmoede in Nederland.
Hofstede, B. (2019, 5 November). Niet elke Britse vrouw kan tampons betalen. Ik zocht uit of menstruatie-armoede ook in Nederland bestaat.
LMDE. (2019). LMDE – Prévention – Bien être – LMDE met fin au tabou sur les règles ! https://www.lmde.fr/prevention/remboursements-protections-hygieniques
Marsh, S. (2019, 13 March). Government to provide free sanitary products in English secondary schools. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/mar/13/government-hammond-to-provide-free-sanitary-products-in-secondary-schools&sa=D&ust=1574078985358000&usg=AFQjCNEpoyR-j5kEJWRjDN-A-VosyxEByw
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Plan International. (2019, 5 November). Bijna een op de tien meisjes heeft weleens geen geld voor maandverband of tampons.
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