Not too long ago, it would have been extremely awkward even to mention your period. Now, even though we have hundreds of euphemisms for it, we are finally talking openly about “that time of the month”.
In the UK it was announced this week that sanitary products will be given out for free in secondary schools across England from September. But for women around the world, the biggest problem can be the affordability of sanitary products.
The average period lasts four days every month. During this time, the American College of Obstetricians estimates that the number of disposable sanitary items used by women per period day is between three and six.
If a woman in Germany needs to use 216 tampons per year, it will only cost her 0.16 per cent of her annual median income. This increases for a woman in the UK to 0.22 per cent of her earnings.
Sanitary products for a woman in the US are slightly less affordable than in the UK, with a year’s supply accounting for 0.26 per cent of her income.
But in many non-western countries, sanitary products become much more unaffordable. A woman in Iran will spend 0.58 per cent of her income, more than double the amount paid by a woman in the US.
The issue hits women in Africa the hardest. In Ethiopia, sanitary products are so unaffordable that 80 per cent of women and girls in rural areas use homemade alternatives such as clothing or rags for their periods. Added to this, a yearly supply of sanitary products can amount to 2.1 per cent of the median income of a woman in Ethiopia.
This figure is even higher in Uganda where women have to spend 3.5 per cent.
Period poverty – not being able to afford the appropriate menstrual products every month – is costing many teenage girls their education.
In Uganda only 22 per cent of girls are enrolled in secondary schools, compared with 91 per cent in primary school, according to research from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.
The cost of hygiene products and the difficulties in managing periods play a key role in keeping girls out of school. Research from the humanitarian organisation Plan International Uganda has found that school attendance rates increase by an estimated 17 per cent when sanitary care and reproductive health education are provided.
The Oscar-winning short documentary Period. End of Sentence noted: “When a girl gets her period in the United States, she may miss a class. When a girl gets her period in a developing country, she may never go to school again.”
Campaigners say breaking the taboos around menstrual hygiene will spur change, but the conversation has only just begun.