PART ONE: May 28th is Menstrual Hygiene Day. Why should you care?
Part One: Period Poverty
By Jennifer Vrouvides
In this two-part series, guest contributor Jennifer Vrouvides explains how periods impact our economy by diving into two important topics: period poverty and the cost of menstruation. Jennifer is the founder of YourPeriodCalled.com, as well as a children’s and health learning program designer and facilitator. Originally from Montreal, Canada, she currently lives between a tiny island called Malta and the ever-vibrant Berlin. She is a passionate activist for health and well-being education and spends her days writing and managing health courses.
Conceived in 2014, Menstrual Hygiene Day (MHDay) lands on the 28th day of the 5th month of the year. It’s more significant than you might think since it represents the typical 5 days of menstruation in a typically 28 day cycle. Beyond great date selection, the day itself aims to raise global awareness around the importance of menstrual health and hygiene. MHDay’s strategy is to shatter the taboos around menstruation through visibility and by engaging with decision-makers to increase political priority from the grassroot-level to governments and beyond. While this all sounds great, how is it impacting you directly?
Some truths about access to health
The simple fact that I can sit here and write this article is one of the reasons talking about menstruation in all spheres is important and highlights why this day is important. Speaking openly about menstruation is important for many reasons, but I’d like to highlight two topics that impact Canadian menstruators: period poverty and menstrual hygiene.
If you’re reading this, chances are you are already impacted by menstruation in some way. Let’s reflect on that for a second: how has your life and health been impacted by your period? Do you get a pesky cramp here and there or do you have debilitating cramps from something serious like endometriosis? Are your drawers bursting with products or do you struggle to afford your period both in terms of time and money? If something’s wrong–for example, you bleed too much, your period never showed up or you feel like there’s something ‘off’–do you have access to medical care? Does your work allow for sick days and have your health needs been heard?
I can give a mixed set of answers to these questions and I didn’t realize how lucky that meant I was. I get bad cramps, my gyno experiences are a mixed bag, but I have access to health services. For the most part, I’ve never struggled to buy the menstrual products I wanted, but that’s not the case for many in Canada. In 2018, Plan International Canada did a survey where it was found that one third of women under 25 said they struggled to afford menstrual products. This statistic floored me and, even more so, because it didn’t come from a rural area. This statistic came from Toronto, Canada’s largest city. If we move to more rural communities, the number of people without access to health and hygiene increases dramatically as the cost of items skyrockets. In Indigenous and rural communities, a box of tampons can cost between $16-$40 per box. If we move out of countries like Canada or the Nordic countries where there are social supports, to many parts of India or South Africa, access can be the difference between basic education and none.
These inequalities cost much more than dollars since they lead to mental and physical health issues, loss of income and educational opportunity for people who do not have adequate access to products and hygiene.
So why does menstrual hygiene day matter?
Menstruation, a topic that was once hidden and shunned, taboo-ridden and full of shame now has its own special day that creates an excellent platform for continuing progress in menstrual matters. Menstrual Hygiene Day is a win because it shows how many more people are engaging with this topic front and centre. Over time and through education, a more equitable world for menstruators can start to take shape. One where everyone has equal access to affordable period products; there’s no need to choose between going to school or not because of a period. A time where menstruation is viewed for what it is: a normal healthy part of life that doesn’t stop anybody from achieving what they want.
Did you know that, on average, Canadian menstruators spend $6,000 in their lifetime on period products? Stay tuned for Part 2 next week where Jennifer will break down the cost of menstruation and how you can save both your wallet and the planet. Don’t forget to follow Your Period Called on Instagram and check out their website for more!