Period Poverty-Mental Health

Period poverty is far-reaching through many parts of the world, where women miss school while menstruating, they cannot afford sanitary products and are misinformed about their own biology.

By Constance Ndeleko

As we wind up the Mental Health Awareness month, we reflect on a sensitive topic that touches on Menstrual Health of girls and young women.

Period poverty is defined as having a lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints. Many people will take this for granted whereas period products are essentials but they don’t come cheap.

Menstrual Hygiene Day (28th March) seeks to highlight the impact that periods and period poverty can have on people that far extends beyond their monthly bleed.

Menstrual Hygiene Day was established by the German non-profit WASH United in 2013 with the mission that “every woman and girl is empowered to manage her menstruation safely, hygienically, with confidence and without shame, where no woman or girl is limited by something as natural and normal as her period.” 

“Low-income girls and women are most at risk to be impacted by period poverty,” says Dr. Jessica Shepherd, OB/GYN and U by Kotex partner, “despite the prevalence of period poverty, fewer people are aware of local resource where free or reduced cost period supplies are available. This demonstrates a need to continue driving conversations around period poverty and periods, in general.”

A new study on access to menstrual products has found that lack of access to these essentials can put girls and young women at great risk of depression, anxiety and further financial barriers.

Kenya in particular experiences this problem, since 65 percent of Kenyan women cannot afford sanitary towels. Period poverty affects women in Kenya in disproportional ways that prevent them from achieving economic and social equality with men.

Being able to access menstrual products is more than dealing with bleeding and feeling comfortable –in fact lack of access to these products can prevent girls from going to school, participate in interactive program, attend social forums which is devastating to children experiencing poverty and homelessness |Teen Vogue|

The unmet menstrual health needs of women and girls globally is vast, and includes the inability to access safe, clean facilities and affordable menstrual products.

The World Bank estimates that 500 million women and girls globally lack access to adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene management. They also lack access to menstrual products.

Sadly, period poverty affects women as young as 13 year old girls in Kenya where they exchange sex in return for feminine products. This contradicts and complicates their lives because of ignorance and culture.

These unmet needs have significant educational consequences for the lives of women and girls. In schools where girls lack access to hygienic facilities, menstruation can contribute to absenteeism or leaving school completely.

One in four girls do not associate menstruation with pregnancy and therefore do not realize the risks of engaging in sexual relations.

Ten percent of girls in sub-Saharan Africa, where Kenya is located, miss school when menstruating. Because of the culture of shame surrounding menstruation, girls often miss school while menstruating since they do not have the proper products to deal with their period. 

The shame surrounding periods and period poverty far extends beyond causing anxiety. “The evidence suggests that menstrual health impacts on women’s health, education, work and wellbeing – for example, girls cannot focus on their studies in school if they have period pains or are anxious about menstrual leaks,” says Intimina’s gynecologist Dr. Shree Datta, “this can affect their ability to focus and contribute, leading to sickness absence at school or work, although there is a paucity of data on periods and the workplace.”

It is well established that meeting one’s basic needs—food, water, shelter—is the necessary foundation for health and well-being. Research indicates that the inability to meet these needs can affect individuals’ mental healt.This suggests that unmet basic needs, such as sanitary hygiene and products, water, food and nutrition, can impact mental health above and beyond other hardships.

Free sanitary products for girls in Kenya are appearing. In June 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed an amendment to the education law that states: free, sufficient, and quality sanitary towels must be provided to every school-registered girl, as well as a safe place to use and dispose of the products. Though only $5 million in the budget has been allocated for this purpose, it offers hope to continued changes that will keep girls in school.

Kenya has seen a great change in the position of women since their new constitution in 2010 that provided great gender equality. Attitudes have begun shifting and women’s rights marches have seen greater prominence.

In the future, hopefully, this improvement will lessen the shame surrounding menstruation so that the country can truly combat the adverse effects of period poverty in Kenya.

Findings suggest that many young women cannot afford menstrual health products to meet their monthly needs, and this may impact their mental well-being. Improved access to affordable menstrual products is needed to support these young women.

“The effect that period poverty can have on a girl’s future is truly shocking. No school girl should go without the daily essentials that she needs, and no woman should suffer less opportunities because of this,”

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