Invisible poverty. How to fight period poverty?


Although this notion increasingly comes up in public conversations, many still either associate it with insufficient knowledge about menstruation or understand it as a name for scant and short periods. This, it is worth stressing that period poverty results from material poverty and means no money to buy essential personal hygiene products. Although it would seem that in times of such rapid progress in civilisation, meeting basic needs should be the absolute norm, the reality is that access to sanitary pads, tampons and analgesics is a problem facing more and more women of all ages. As you can read on the Kulczyk Foundation’s website, menstrual poverty affects approximately one in ten women in Europe.

‘Don’t ever accept anyone else’s preconceived limitations. If there’s something you want to do, there isn’t any reason you can’t do it.’ – Amy Dodson, an American below-the-knee amputee world record holder in women’s triathlons

Unfortunately, period poverty exists in Poland too. The Kulczyk Foundation’s surveys show that one-fifth of Polish women struggle to buy appropriate menstrual products. This has a number of sad implications, one of which is isolation and social exclusion.

Where does period poverty come from?

Period poverty exists for a variety of reasons. The most common root cause of the problem is material deprivation in the household. Low income induces a need to focus on the most basic products, pushing pads or tampons well down or even off the shopping list. Sometimes, the lack of access to hygiene products is due to financial dependency on others. Girls have to rely on their parents or guardians for shopping as the latter are responsible for meeting their period needs. However, if the relationships at home are bad, teens will be reluctant or unable to approach adults to ask to buy them the products they need. Taking up the subject with a teacher or extended relatives is shameful for them and they prefer to keep silent and cope alone.

Financial dependency applies also to adults. In financially abusive households, women often have no money of their own and depend on their tyrant partner for shopping who takes advantage of their fear and humiliation. Difficulties with access to menstrual supplies and maintaining good personal hygiene also affect female inmates. The monthly number of pads allotted to inmates is very limited and the quantity provided is frequently insufficient for heavy periods.

An embarrassing problem? Absolutely not!

The issue is exacerbated by the fact that for many, menstruation is an embarrassing and inappropriate subject, something to be spoken about in a low voice or not at all. Such attitudes only add to the woes of period poverty and reinforce women’s convictions that they are alone with this and should not seek help. Period poverty causes them to stay away from public life for the duration of the menstrual flow. According to a survey by the Kulczyk Foundation, 54% of teenage girls in Poland have missed school due to their period at least once and 21% of young girls have had to ask for permission to leave class early because of no period products. Isolation affects not only education and career but also health and mental well-being. Thankfully, initiatives such as the ‘Yes to Pads’ Campaign run by the Periodic Coalition help break the taboo around menstruation and make the public aware that monthly periods are part of normal human physiology that should not be associated with shame or rejection.

Menstruation is not a luxury.

Educating communities is the first step in the battle against period poverty. When you realise the scale of the issue, you can support the women in need. They in turn would find more courage to ask for help if they felt they were understood by those around them. And although this is just the beginning of the necessary changes, speaking up about period poverty has already made a visible impact. Hygiene product dispensers and baskets have appeared in the restrooms of many companies and institutions. Increasingly, you can find them in restaurants, cultural institutions and other public places. Using a ‘pink box’, as these are called, sometimes requires you to deposit a coin, but in most cases period supplies are free and available to all.

Period poverty has also become an issue of political debate. Female MPs of the Civic Coalition (Koalicja Obywatelska), the Polish People’s Party (PSL) and the Left (Lewica) have endorsed Poland’s first draft menstruation law. The draft law is likely to be tabled in June, and its originator is the Periodic Coalition. The objective of the proposed law is to introduce free pads and instruction on menstrual health in all Polish schools. This is a big step forward to create wider awareness and support the embrace of menstruation and remove the shame. It is also important not to remain indifferent if you suspect that someone around you may be affected by period poverty. Let us show empathy, understanding and willingness to help instead of judging. This costs so little but can make such a big difference to someone’s quality of life.

Agnieszka Małgorzata Adamska

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