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On Menstrual Hygiene Day, Sanitation and Water for All Calls for an End to Period Poverty

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GENEVA, 28 May 2022 - On Menstrual Hygiene Day, the Sanitation and Water for All global partnership (SWA) is calling for an end to period poverty which affects over 500 million people worldwide.

Every day, 800 million people around the world have their period. The average woman will spend 3,000 days menstruating during her lifetime.

Despite being a normal part of life, the topic of menstruation is considered uncomfortable. Millions of menstruators around the world are quietly battling “period poverty” – induced by the high price of hygiene products such as tampons, pads or liners. These costs reinforce gender inequalities and pose major barriers to social and economic potential.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, more than a third of girls aged 14-21 in the UK have struggled to afford or access period products – an increase from previous years despite efforts to lower costs.

In the United States, two-thirds of low-income women could not afford menstrual products in the past year.

Additionally, according to data from the Observatorio Villero de al Poderosa, 6 out of 10 women in Argentina have stopped buying sanitary products in order to buy food.

Recent studies show that the stress of period poverty may also be impacting anxiety and depression among women.

Despite lobbying efforts from activists worldwide, many countries still engage in systemic discrimination known as the ‘tampon tax,’ which classifies menstrual products as luxury and non-essential, illustrating the gendered impact of supposedly ‘neutral’ legal and tax structures. In some countries, this tax falls between a staggering 20-30%.

Affordable menstrual health is a major public health and human rights issue, and a matter of dignity for many low-income menstruators. Shrouded in ignorance and misinformation, periods are taboo topics, not to be discussed openly. Because men make up the majority of the world’s leaders, including health leadership, menstrual health is left out of health policies, plans and budgets.

In this very concrete way, the imbalance of political power between genders in decision-making roles leads to inequalities in access to education and wealth. It can literally be lethal, as menstruators living in poverty resort to reusing old products, newspapers, toilet paper, socks, rags, leaves, mud, and other materials. 

Additionally, too many women and girls have been forced to sacrifice school, work, and social situations because they can’t afford to manage periods safely. Women also lose pay and educational opportunities from absences related to period pain and other menstrual health problems.

Slowly but surely, more and more countries are making progress. Thanks to activists and political leaders, governments are increasingly devising policies to make sanitary products more accessible. Not only through tax reduction, but also other measures such as subsidies or free distribution.

That change is echoing throughout the world. Colombia has removed all taxes from pads and tampons, extending the exemption to menstrual cups. In 2020, Scotland became the first country in the world which provides tampons and sanitary pads free of charge. France has launched a pilot program which offers free products for students, placing dispensers on campuses throughout the country. Nepal also distributes free sanitary pads in schools with the hope of reducing absenteeism.

Making period products affordable is not only a necessary step towards equality but a crucial step in breaking down the barriers that stigmatize menstruation.

This Menstrual Hygiene Day we ask governments around the world to tackle period poverty head on. This means eliminating any legislation which contributes to gender discrimination, such as removing the tampon tax or applying exceptions or 0% VAT rates to these essential basic goods.

We call for increased support for movements which promote widespread sanitary supply availability, and investment in programs which offer complementary feminine hygienic supplies in spaces such as schools, homeless shelters and for menstruators from low-income backgrounds. These measures would have immeasurable benefits to menstruators and would be a major step for equality.

Periods may only happen to part of the population, but safe, hygienic, and dignified menstruation benefits all of us.

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ABOUT SANITATION AND WATER FOR ALL
Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) is a multi-stakeholder partnership of governments and their partners from civil society, the private sector, UN agencies, research and learning institutions and the philanthropic community. Together, SWA partners stimulate high-level political dialogue - at the country, regional and global levels - and coordinate and monitor progress toward the sanitation, water and hygiene-related targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. For more information visit www.sanitationandwaterforall.org.

MEDIA CONTACT:
Alexandra Reis
Head of Communications
Sanitation and Water for All (SWA)
Alexandra.reis@sanitationandwaterforall.org