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Period poverty keeps women and girls from reaching their full potential, in the U.S. and around the world

Period poverty keeps women and girls from reaching their full potential, in the U.S. and around the world
Photo by Annika Gordon on Unsplash
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There are few certainties in life, but one thing women and girls can generally depend on is a monthly period. Come hell or high water, Aunt Flo is likely gonna show, and it's almost always going to happen at an inopportune time.

Now imagine what life looks like for those who lack access to period products.

Katie is in the 6th grade. She lives in the poorest county in Kentucky, where almost everyone works in coal — and there is too little education and too much meth. Katie's family doesn't have enough money to eat or keep the power on consistently. Personal hygiene is an afterthought, which is why when she gets her first period, she has no choice but to stuff old washcloths into her underwear before going to school.

Later that week, when she runs out of washcloths, she simply stops going.


For girls like Katie, it's easy to see how menstruation each month can stand in the way of a high school graduation or keeping a summer job — and could eventually prevent them from climbing out of poverty altogether.

According to the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, approximately 500 million women and girls live without access to essential tools for menstrual hygiene management, such as period products and handwashing facilities, but what many of them do have is a boatload of shame. Across the board, menstrual health is hugely underfunded and over stigmatized, leaving people like Katie at a huge disadvantage.

Thorsten Kiefer, co-founder of WASH United — a non-profit organization that focuses on improving menstrual hygiene and human rights worldwide — told Upworthy that he wants to see period poverty become a thing of the past. His goal is to "create a world in which no woman or girl is limited because of her period by 2030," because Kiefer hates injustice.

That general distaste for ignorance and injustice is what led him to pursue a career in human rights law, and later spurred the idea for WASH United. It bothered Kiefer that no one wanted to talk about toilets and handwashing, and as a result, people suffered. "I guess I'm really interested in taboo social issues no one else wants to touch," he said.

In 2013, WASH United took their work a step further and created Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day), a global advocacy platform that brings together the voices and actions of non-profits, government agencies, individuals, the private sector and the media to promote good menstrual hygiene management for all women and girls. The main goal of MH Day is to break the silence, raise awareness and change negative social norms surrounding periods.

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This goal is why his organization partners with brands like Always to bring the issues around menstrual health to the forefront.

Always ramped up production and shipping of pads in response to the COVID-19 crisis, with a goal of getting products into stores quickly and donating them to those in need through charity partners. So far, the company has donated over five million period products across the United States, as well as worked to find relevant ways to ensure that girls and their families have access to information and resources that they need to navigate their periods with confidence.

Clearly, the more attention periods get, the more resources will become available for the people who need them the most.

"I'm most proud of the MH Day partnership as a whole — of how this extremely heterogeneous group of organizations ranging from tiny, grassroots non-governmental organizations to corporate giants like Procter & Gamble sings together like one gigantic choir to make our voice heard loud and clear for one single purpose: empower women and girls to achieve their full potential and realize their dreams," Kiefer said.

"Maybe 'proud' is not even the right word. To see MH Day in action just makes me really happy."

Girls like Katie, if armed with period products, an education and a supportive environment, can change the world. The question is, will we help them get what they need?

To support this effort and other programs like it, all you have to do is keep doing what you're doing — like shopping for period products. Turn your everyday actions into acts of good every day at P&G Good Everyday.

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