By PADShare Foundation 

How many opportunities are lost by women and girls the world over every day due to period poverty? The scope of the question itself is almost frightening in its scale. Globally, the leading factor holding back progress on gender equality within the developing world comes down to the inability to access and afford necessities. . A lack of access to adequate menstrual hygiene products and a lack of resources to obtain them is pushing women to the edge and dragging them below the poverty line. 

One of the driving factors of period poverty on a global scale remains that of stigmas fueled by the oath of silence surrounding menstruation and menstrual hygiene practices. Women and girls are pushed to face the difficult choice of public shaming or privately missing out on opportunities both in the classroom and the workplace. Take this example last month here in Kampala, Uganda- the story of a woman in line at a Centenary Bank, who was humiliated by a security guard and was asked to use the toilets across the street from the bank facility because she suffered a period leak while at the bank premises. The story itself made some waves within Kampala, but it sheds light onto a broader issue- the harsh realities of double standards that women face while menstruating worldwide, the disgust linked to period blood at the sight or thought of it. In some cultures, the time of menstruation is so taboo that women and girls are simply removed from the household entirely, forced to stay outside and away from their family and activities, in untamed territory to prevent anyone from getting in contact with her  

The menstrual cycle for millions is a vicious monthly ordeal, with the problems compounding onto each other. Already facing cultural stigmas surrounding menstruation, those without access are often forced to improvise- as Darren Saywell, Plan International USA’s Director of Water, Sanitation and Health explains- “Many girls around the world still lack access to affordable hygienic menstrual products. Instead, they are forced to use improvised materials, such as rags or leaves. Not only are they uncomfortable, but they can lead to leaks and infections. Girls also lack access to clean, safe private toilets. There is no clean water within or near the toilets, which means there is nowhere to clean up and discreetly dispose of used menstrual products.”

To make matters worse, millions of women and girls globally simply lack any concrete knowledge surrounding menstruation. Sexual and reproductive health education are massive gaps in the global schooling system, leaving many girls caught entirely unaware when they begin menstruating, let alone what to do when they are on their period. This can spiral into girls being forced to skip school entirely while menstruating rather than face public shaming in the classroom. For those who do brave ridicule to attend school, millions find facilities that simply cannot meet their needs – they muscle through the discomfort, the constant awareness and reminder not to move or suffer a spill. This is a solvable problem and needs to start with us  considering the restoration of dignity of menstruating girls around the world by enabling them to have access to information surrounding menstruation. Through individual and community education, the stigmas surrounding menstruation that compounds period poverty can end and women and girls can have a feeling of   belonging- in the classroom and the workplace and in their homes. 

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