Design interventions on

Period Poverty

Summary of research insights from ‘The Sanitary Pad Project’ focusing on understanding, assessing and overcoming period poverty – June, 2024


Why is Period Poverty important? 

It is estimated that there are currently 500 million women and girls worldwide who are without adequate access to products to manage their periods safely, hygienically and without shame (The World Bank, 2022). Not only is the quality of life of many women and girls impacted, these absences also have a considerable effect on the overall economic growth of the countries where period poverty is especially prevalent. Reports show that 20 percent of Rwanda’s schoolgirls, particularly in rural areas, miss up to 50 days of school per year due to menstruation-related issues, representing a potential loss of (US) $115 million of GDP per year (UNFPA, 2022). 

A major contributing factor for the prevalence of period poverty is affordability, and it should be noted that this is a global issue affecting women and girls in many countries around the world. For example, despite the abolition of tampon tax in the UK in 2021, in recent years, due to the ongoing cost of living crisis and a substantial rise in inflation, data from a poll collected by ActionAid UK, showed that UK period poverty rose from 12% to 21% between 2022 and 2023. Ultimately, this means that despite period products being readily available in supermarkets and pharmacies across the UK, in 2023 nearly one fifth of women and people who menstruate in the UK could not afford them. Likewise, in the US, a study conducted in 2023 showed that 23% of teenagers struggled to afford period products. These statistics suggest that even in places we consider to be more developed, access to female healthcare is still not given enough attention.

For proper menstrual hygiene, it is crucial that people on their periods have access to clean, running water, hand soap, and plenty of sanitary products such as pads, tampons and menstrual cups. When these basic needs are not met, those affected are forced into absence from school or work and are at higher risk of infection and other health issues. Ultimately they are not provided with the same life opportunities as others, and are less able to provide for their families.


Solving Period Poverty is important to close the Gender Gap 


According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2023, the gender gap has been reduced by 0.24 percentage points over the last 17 years. If the gender gap continues to close at this pace, it is estimated that it will take 131 years to close. Interestingly, it is also projected that economic participation and opportunity gap will take 169 years to close. It can be seen that while the overall trend is positive, in recent years, the progress appears to have stagnated, highlighting that the pace at which gender equity is being progressed needs to be increased. 

The eradication of period poverty is a key factor in meeting these projections. Interesting insights can be drawn from further analysis into the key challenges and barriers affecting the pace of transition. For example, for almost all countries, data from the World Economic Forum shows that enrollment into primary or secondary school has substantially increased over the last 17 years across many countries; however, once enrollment has been achieved, retention metrics and graduation rates can provide further insight into access to education overall. Enrollment into school alone is not sufficient as there are factors that affect the performance of women and girls, such as period poverty, which reduces the rate of retention and acts as a barrier for career progression. 

To study this further, we conducted a case study in the region of Nyanza, where our Sanitary Pad Project is based. We visited the Nyaratovu school and requested some data for student retention rates over the last 3 years and we saw that there is a retention gap for girls and boys. In 5 out of 6 assessments, around 19-25% of girls repeated the school year in comparison to 10-16% boys. Although there are a number of factors that affect the enrollment rate of a given year, there is a consistent trend in female performance. We interviewed the head master of the school as well as the school student support councillor. When asked about periods, we were informed that many girls went home on the days of their periods if they did not have sanitary products to help them. The school does sometimes have provisions in place in case a student gets their period at school but the supplies are limited and there are not enough sanitary products for the whole school. Therefore, one of the contributing factors for reduced performance was access to adequate sanitary products. We want to especially thank Nyaratovu school, Nyanza for providing us with this data.  


Similar studies and findings can be seen in other countries. In an article released by Al-Jazeera in 2020, the struggles of period poverty faced by girls in the Nairobi slum of Korogocho have been described. The article states that “an estimated one million girls miss school every month” and that over the course of “four years of high school, they lose on average 165 learning days.” The article details, from first-hand accounts of young women, that there are two factors that majorly impact these statistics: the attitude of boys towards girls in their class, and the inability to afford sanitary products. Despite government initiatives to counteract period poverty, such as reducing import tax on period products in 2012 and a funding programme to distribute 140 million pads to 4.2 million girls, the majority of Kenya’s population still struggles with access to sanitary products. The government’s pad distribution initiative lasted only around four months before failing. Currently, the Kenyan-based NGO, Miss Koch, is the main source of free pad distribution in local slums although limited funding also means that they only reach a small number of girls each month. 

Period education is an important step in overcoming biases

In addition to increased access to sanitary products, one of the major issues perpetuating period poverty is the lack of period education in schools. A lack of eduction around menstrual hygiene, menstrual hygiene management as well as related factors such as sexual health and reproduction systems, not only leaves young female students uninformed about their menstrual cycle, but also allows taboos surrounding periods and ill-information to fester, causing distressing feelings of shame and self-loathing. Rejection from peers, which can manifest as teasing, bullying, or a change in general attitude towards a person, is a major cause for concern for young women and girls who are already significantly marginalised and taught to feel less capable than their male counterparts. 

In certain cultures, periods prevent people who are menstruating from participating in religious activities, leaving the house, and interacting with males. The notion of impurity tends to be associated with periods, thus furthering the stigmatization of menstruation. Being open about periods with those who don’t experience them and helping others understand menstruation is a critical step to uniting communities and eliminating sex and gender-based discrimination. 


Future projects can ensure a systematic and holistic approach to their design by methodically addressing the 5 key factors contributing to period poverty 


When designing initiatives to reduce period poverty, it is crucial to address menstrual health issues from multiple angles. There are 5 key factors contributing to period poverty: These include access, awareness, availability, affordability, and adequacy. At Minazi, we collectively refer to these as ‘the Five A’s’. We believe in addition to increased access, rising awareness and implementing educational programmes are essential components. The efforts ensure that information is made readily available to people who need it. Concurrently, governments and organisations must recognise the significance of improving access and availability to sanitary products for the well-being of women and girls within their communities. This approach will drive the development of more affordable and adequate feminine health services in public facilities globally.


Design Principles of the Sanitary Pad Project


The Sanitary Pad Project, in collaboration with Dufatanye Organization, Rwanda, addresses the sustainability and accessibility of period products in Nyanza, Rwanda. We are developing innovative, environmentally sustainable solutions to address period poverty by utilising local resources such as banana fibre, and we are also developing a menstrual health awareness campaign.  

The Sanitary Pad Project is designed to address the 5 key factors through a hollistic design approach. These design principles have been used to create a long term and sustainable project intervention. Since the inception of our initiative, we have achieved several significant milestones that underscore our commitment to both the community and environmental stability. As of 2023, we have distributed over 300 sanitary pads to the local community.

Insight article series part of 'The Sanitary Pad Project' at Minazi

Read More