As a privileged person I have always taken for granted the access to education, without thinking or acknowledging in depth the importance and the benefits related with obtaining proper instruction. Education is the tool that allows us to grow as individuals and as active parts of our society, it gives us the means to take care of ourselves, to be independent, to do what we love, and to build a career. Saying that, what is also important to acknowledge is that not everyone has this privilege, not everyone has the luck of complaining about the crazy amount of homework in elementary school, or about that strict and boring teacher that didn’t allow me to sit next to my best friend during middle school, and again about the difficult exams that are going to ruin my Christmas holidays this winter. Indeed, around the world, and especially in developing countries, where the level of poverty is higher, individuals - specifically girls - face barriers to receiving proper education because they lack access to affordable and hygienic menstrual products, adequate wash facilities, and menstrual health education.
Social and economic difficulties are too often the reason why girls attend school only sporadically due to their menstrual cycle and the lack of adequate sanitary products. The accumulation of missing days also brings consequent worsening in academic performances and in many cases leads the girls to drop out of school. These factors expose girls to marriages and pregnancy at a really young age.
This phenomenon is called “period poverty”: the inability to afford adequate sanitary facilities to get through the menstrual cycle smoothly and hygienically. Even if it is more evident in underdeveloped countries it is also a marginal problem in the western society (for example, in the UK, 10% of girls aged between 14-21 said that they couldn't afford tampons, 15% struggled to buy them, and 14% for them to friends because they were too expensive). Period poverty is closely linked to the stigma associated with monthly bleeding. For instance, in Afghanistan, there is still a widespread belief that washing during your period leads to infertility, and in Japan, women might find it hard becoming sushi chefs because of the belief that menstruation would alter their sense of taste.
In Nepal, the word Chaupadi indicates an ancestral practice of forcing menstruating girls to sleep outside the home. This tradition was outlawed in 2017, but in 2018 one girl died due to this practice. The Western version of this stigma is the shame related to talking publicly about menstruation, the habit of hiding the pad in your sleeve when you get up to go changing it or the one-off going to the bathroom with your purse when the only thing you need is a tampon.
If you want to know more about the effects of period poverty and how you can give your contribution for this important cause I’d recommend you to watch a short documentary titled “Period. End of Sentence."