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Period Poverty: Widening the Gender Equality Gap

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Period poverty is a global issue affecting those who don’t have access to the safe, hygienic menstrual products they need, and who are unable to manage their periods with dignity, sometimes due to community stigma and sanction. It doesn't just refer to those who have no access to menstrual products; in some cases, limited access to these products leads to prolonged use of the same tampons or pads, which can cause infection.

The Consequence of Period Poverty

In Africa, consequences of period poverty can include:

  •  Girls often miss one or more days of school during their periods, which negatively impacts their education. One in 10 girls in Africa miss school because they don’t have access to menstrual products, or because there aren’t safe, private toilets to use at school1.
  • In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, some girls will miss as much as 20% of their school year; some may drop out of school altogether. The loss of education can mean girls are more likely to be forced into child marriage. This absenteeism was largely due to the lack of facilities at school, lack of awareness around menstruation, embarrassment, menstrual pain, and the inability to afford hygienic sanitary materials2.
  • Women and girls with special needs and disabilities disproportionately do not have access to affordable pads, likewise, those in conflict-affected areas like Northeast Nigeria or aftermath of natural disaster also makes it more difficult for women and girls to access sanitary products to manage their period3.
  • In South Africa, up to 7 million girls do not have access or cannot afford to buy sanitary products, many of them must stay home. Many also report using old clothes and newspapers as sanitary pads when they cannot use sanitary products meant for periods. This is unhygienic and can cause other health problems and infections. Often, girls and women must choose between buying food and sanitary products because of the costs. When faced with this difficult choice, many choose to purchase food as it takes more of a priority. As a result, many must face the health and social consequences of not having sanitary products4.

As more girls miss school while menstruating, it is more difficult for them to learn. With limited education, there is less of a chance for girls to lift themselves and their communities out of poverty. This is the crux of period poverty in Africa.

What needs to be done

The need for menstrual literacy and puberty education is central to a comprehensive response to the challenges around menstruation. Among both girls and boys and the broader school community, issues of menstruation, should, in theory, form part of comprehensive sexuality education. However, the quality of education is still largely unknown. Information on the menstrual cycle and good menstrual hygiene, coupled with teacher sensitivity and the provision of psychosocial support where necessary, are important ingredients within an effective menstruation health approach at the school level. The lack of affordable sanitary products has a resultant effect on women and girls’ health, economic, power dynamics in a relationship and the height of it all leads to an increase in gender inequality.


[1]        Puberty education & menstrual hygiene management, UNESCO. Accessed 20 July 2020.

[2]        World Bank Blog, “Globally, periods are causing girls to be absent from school”. Accessed 20 July 2020.

[3]        Voices of Youth, “End Period Poverty Now; A Well-Informed Adolescent Initiative Project”.  Accessed 20 July 2020.

[4]        United Nations Population Fund, “A turning point for girls' and women’s menstrual health in Africa”. Accessed 20 July 2020.

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