Period poverty reaches far and wide, having a negative impact not just on girls and women, but society as a whole.
Education and work
Many girls miss out on education because of their period. Almost half of girls have missed an entire day of school. This leads to around 137,000 girls missing school each year, which could have a lasting impact on a girls education, especially if days are missed each month.
A study conducted in the Netherlands of 32,7498 women indicated that 13.8% of women have to miss work due to their period with 3.4% missing work every month. But when women were working during their period, over 80% found it harder, and wished they had more flexibility in their tasks and working hours.
This causes an economic impact through the loss of productivity. As schools and workplaces don’t take into account female menstrual health, despite it affecting a large chunk of the population - greater flexibility and more open, honest conversations about menstrual health could help to address these issues.
Physical education is also affected, with 64% of girls having missed PE or sports lessons due to their period. This can mean girls aren’t getting the same benefits of physical education and regular physical activity that boys are.
Women can also feel prohibited from taking part in certain sports and activities as a result of not having the right menstrual products, self-consciousness or myths. For example, plan-uk.org found that there was a common assumption that you can’t go swimming whilst menstruating. Even those who understood that this wasn’t true said they’d feel uncomfortable getting in the water in case they leaked.
Whilst it’s important for anyone menstruating to be able to take part in sport if they wish and to not feel embarrassed about being on their period - pressure to ‘carry on as normal’ as though they weren’t impacted at all by menstruation is often the wrong message. This demonstrates a lack of understanding that not all girls and women have the same experience of menstruation. It also omits the importance of taking time for rest and self-care, and not to feel guilty about doing that.
Limited access to menstrual health products can also leave women creating makeshift solutions that are uncomfortable and unsafe. It can also lead to repeated use of products like menstruation pads which can increase the risk of thrush or bacterial infections. Or, leaving in tampons for longer than advised which can increase the risk of TSS.
In addition to period poverty, we know periods can be uncomfortable. This also contributes to missing school and sports. But girls and women shouldn’t have to feel ashamed or embarrassed about saying why.
Of the girls missing out on school and PE lessons, in both cases over 50% have made up a lie or alternate excuse because they didn’t want to say they were having a period (Plan International). Of those who missed work, some also didn’t feel comfortable citing a period as the reason.
For anyone, feeling shame or embarrassment about their body can contribute to low self-esteem, stress, anxiety and depression. This can be coupled with the stress from the added difficulty of being unable to buy the menstrual health products needed to manage a period.
Managing physical symptoms like cramps, headaches and symptoms of PMS is also easier when people feel comfortable talking about their periods. Asking for what they need, be that advice, menstruation products, medication to manage pain or other support is important and should be encouraged.