A conversation about Period Poverty

A conversation about Period Poverty

Period Poverty is something that affects 1 in every 5 Australians who menstruate. Whilst it's a common experience, it's not a common topic of conversation. That's why we sat down with TABOO co-founder, Eloise, to help answer our questions about Period Poverty.

  • When people think of poverty, they tend to think of issues such as homelessness or food insecurity but that's not the case with period poverty. What does period poverty look like?

  • Period Poverty is an experience that can affect anyone who menstruates. It is the situation in which someone does not have access to dignified period care or menstrual health education. However, we find that marginalised groups are more vulnerable, such as those living under financial stress, people who live in rural communities, people experiencing homelessness or those fleeing domestic violence. 

  • In Australia, period poverty can force people to use alternative period management materials such as socks or sponges to manage their menstrual fluid. Is this safe? And if not, why?

  • Many of these methods can be extremely unsafe.
    Alternative materials for period management, such as socks, rags or sponges are often unsafe solutions for people, making them vulnerable to severe infection and irritation. They are also less reliable in absorbing menstrual blood, so users often develop anxiety about their menstrual blood leaking through, and staining their clothes, causing people to avoid their day-to-day commitments (such as work or school). 

    We have also learnt that people will attempt to reuse their tampon by rinsing out the tampon with water, to then reuse it again. Doing this drastically heightens the risk of developing ‘toxic shock syndrome’, a serious and sometimes fatal bacterial infection. In fact, even using a tampon once, as intended, carries risk which is why the recommended use time is strictly no more than 8 hours. 

  • How does not having proper access to menstrual care affect someone's life?

  • Period poverty can significantly affect someone's life in various ways. Whilst there is a never ending list of potential consequences, we often discuss the social, economic and health implications specifically.

    Social Consequences: The fear and embarrassment of bleeding into clothes, often prevents people experiencing period poverty from playing sports, meeting friends or famliy.

    Economic Consequences: Due to the lack of access to proper period care, people often choose to not go to work or school, which has short term and long term personal economic impact. 

    Health Consequences: The mismanagement of a period can lead to lasting health issues such as ‘toxic shock syndrome’ or ‘urogenital infections’. Shockingly, we see significant numbers of women presenting to intensive care units with sepsis, simply due to using a tampon for too long. 

    Whilst not all women menstruate, and not everyone who menstruates identifies as a women, the experience of period poverty disproportionately disempowers women and girls. The prevalence of period poverty is a huge barrier to gender equality.

  • Why do you believe period poverty still exists within Australia?

  • Our perception of Australia can sometimes be that we are a rich and wealthy country and while this is true in many aspects it is only the ‘lucky country’ for some. 

    1 in 6 children are currently growing up in poverty in Australia and 6 out of 10 Gen Z and Millennial women are struggling to afford period products. With the cost of living crisis as bad as it is for many Australians, people tend to put their menstrual needs last and will prioritise food for their family or themselves over buying period products. The lack of education on the dangers of using alternative materials for period management can lead to people justifying taking the risk of their health over prioritising buying what they deem as more important at the time. 

    Unfortunately, our current infrastructure has not been designed to support women's menstrual health needs. For the most part, accessing proper period care, such as pads or tampons is not possible unless you purchase it yourself. That burden of cost is still expected to be borne by the person who bleeds, as compared to other similar necessities such as toilet paper, which is an expected provision when entering any public or private bathroom. 

  • Do you believe the stigmas surrounding menstruation prevent us from addressing period poverty head on?

  • Definitely. Something that we are excited to continue to do with TABOO is break down the stigma surrounding menstruation, so that we can continue the conversation about period care being introduced to our infrastructure. Once shame and stigma is taken out of the conversation then it's possible to have an honest chat about the fact that there should be period care available in public and private spaces such as schools, universities and workplaces in the same way that toilet paper is, so that there is an equal opportunity for women to thrive.

  • Many beliefs surrounding period practices are linked to culture and even religion, how does Taboo help people while still being respectful?

  • It is not our place to influence anybody's beliefs. However, we are of the understanding that improving people's access to education of menstrual healthcare can dismantle some harmful beliefs about menstruation, such that it’s a “dirty” or “unclean” experience. We are closely led by local, community leaders who understand their communities needs best. We practise a model of filling existing gaps in menstrual health care provision, rather than pushing a singular set of knowledge. 

  • Could you talk about a moment that you are proud of where Taboo managed to change someone's life by addressing period poverty?

  • The ‘Pad It Forward’ program is something TABOO is extremely proud of having created. We currently work with 22 community organisations and pride ourselves on being led by those organisations. We provide really high quality period products at no cost to the organisation, while also providing support through menstrual health and wellbeing education. We don’t push our own curriculum on the community and ensure it's always a collaborative/co-designed solution that's led by the leaders of these communities. 

    We’ve receive a lot of great feedback from the community, passing on their thanks for providing access to product, and how it’s meant that they were able to go into work that day, or school etc. It's a great assurance that we are on the right path to making a lasting change. 

  • TABOO began as a response towards period poverty in Australia. Could you talk about when and why you realised this was a war you were going to take on? 

  • Isobel and I (Eloise) started TABOO when we were in highschool because we felt very strongly that gender equality must be actualised, and that every woman and girl deserves equal access to education. We found that one of the biggest hurdles towards girls’ education was period poverty. We thought the fact that girls were not getting an education because they couldn't access period products was a ridiculous boundary and we felt that this was something that quite easily could be fixed through the provisioning of period care and education. We felt that a social enterprise model of business was a great tool to actualise this vision. I remember we felt excited because we ourselves had spent so much money on buying products and so it felt amazing to provide people with a choice of product that  supported someone else's access to period care.

    Soon after establishing TABOO, I heard a story about a young girl from Adelaide whose family was experiencing financial hardship. The girl ended up getting her period for the first time, but kept this from her parents because she knew it would become an added financial burden to them. So to keep them from being more stressed about finances, she would get on the bus to school, but because she was bleeding without any period care, she would get off the bus near the River Torrens and sit on the grass and bleed there untill the end of the school day. She would then get back on the school bus and return home as though she had been at school. She ended up missing school for a full week, just because she didn't know how to access affordable period care safely. 

    This was one story that felt close to home because it was in the city that I grew up in, and is a very real example of how serious the consequences of period poverty can be. It’s also a stark reminder of how simple the solution is to support this girl continuing her education. 

  • Many people still view menstruation as a ‘women's issue', how does period poverty affect those who do not menstruate?

  • I think it’s important to remember that none of us would exist without menstruation. It’s a very important process of life and it affects everyone even before birth. I also believe that the majority of us (I hope all!) want to establish a world with gender equality. Which is why it's so important to have this conversation about menstrual equity so that we can achieve gender equality because we know gender equality has positive outcomes for everyone. 

    It’s also important to note that menstruation is not inherently a woman's problem. There are men and non-binary people who menstruate and many women who don't menstruate. We definitely believe that not everyone who bleeds is a woman and not everyone who is a woman, bleeds. Taking gender constructs out of the conversation of menstruation is a really powerful step in understanding that menstruation is something everyone should understand and be educated about. We believe everyone should be equally educated on the subject. This takes the stigma out of the experience and prevents an ‘us vs. them’ type of mentality that can develop through ignorance of the body. 

    Anymore questions for Eloise? Pop a comment down below and we’ll try and answer it for you as best we can. 

    To stay up to date on efforts against Period Poverty follow TABOO Period Products on social media.

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