World Population Day is an opportunity to put reproductive rights and issues of gender equality firmly on the global agenda. This year, period poverty must be front and centre of the conversation.
If the UK Conservative government are serious about eradicating period poverty by 2030 then they must use this opportunity to ensure ending period poverty is in the minds of every single world leader. The Conservative government have a duty to do all they can to end the injustice and stigma surrounding periods in the UK and across the globe.
Established by the United Nation Development Programme in 1989, the internationally recognised day has helped to highlight the importance of population issues and amplify calls for reproductive health as a priority. A key pillar of reproductive rights, menstrual hygiene impacts women and girl’s access to education, and often has a big effect on their overall health.
Around half of all women and girls across the world do not have access to safe sanitary products and the stigma and taboos surrounding periods persists globally.
Around half of all women and girls across the world do not have access to safe sanitary products and the stigma and taboos surrounding periods persists globally. The reality for many is that they are forced to use dirty rags, grass, plastic, or overuse a pad or tampon, due to a lack of access to sterilised sanitary products. The everyday reality and cost of periods is putting lives at risk and perpetuating inequality. So too is the cycle of misinformation and taboos that surrounds periods.
Just this year, a Nepali mother and her two children were found dead after the woman was banished to a “menstruation hut”. In this heart-breaking instance, the cause of death was smoke inhalation as she lit a fire in a desperate attempt to keep her children warm, but there have also been cases of women dying from snake bites, and others being subject to criminal attacks. These unnecessary, shameful cases are as a direct result of a lack of education surrounding periods. Associating periods with bad luck or impurity is not uncommon in cultures across the world, with devastating consequences.
In the UK, a lack of understanding and education also leads to persistent stigma. Nearly half of those who get their period for the first time don’t know what’s happening to them and almost 60% report feeling embarrassed about their period. A failure to provide effective education about menstrual health to those of all genders is keeping taboos alive and perpetuating inequalities. Health issues including endometriosis often go undiagnosed because people aren’t clued up on warning signs or symptoms.
Just this year, a Nepali mother and her two children were found dead after the woman was banished to a “menstruation hut”.
Providing sanitary products in hospitals and schools in England is a step in the right direction, but we should be leading on this issue. The Tories must pledge to roll our free products across other spaces too, including shelters, hostels, libraries, and leisure centres. The campaign to end period poverty globally by 2030 is crucial, but to do this we must protect our UK aid commitment and keep the issue on the global political agenda. Today is a chance to do that.
It is time to eradicate period poverty wherever it exists. This World Population Day the Conservative government must use their voice to break the silence surrounding periods and ensure they are taking the most effective steps possible to bring an end to period poverty. No one, no matter where they live, should lose out on an education or have their health and wellbeing put at risk because of their period. Eradicating period poverty will take funding, it will take education, and it will take unwavering commitment. This World Population Day, I am calling on the Conservative government to use their influence and resources to help ensure the fight gets all three, at home and abroad.