Thinking Period Poverty Economically

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Disclaimer: Most research conducted on period poverty has been done through a gender binary view, indicating people who menstruate as “females''. Because this article is based on secondary research, it will mainly cover the experience of menstruating women. However, it is important to recognize that menstruation is not exclusive to any gender- not all who menstruate are women, nor do all women menstruate- and, hence, nor is period poverty.

On February 23rd, 2021, the French government announced that menstrual products would start being available for all students in the country. Frédérique Vidal, the French minister for Higher Education, Research, and Innovation, described period poverty as a “matter of dignity, solidarity, and health”(1). This was not an isolated step: New Zealand had shortly before announced the same measure (2) and, in 2021, Scotland became the first country in the world to “make period products obtainable free of charge for anyone who needs to use them”(3).

So, what exactly is Period Poverty?

The American Medical Women’s Association defines period poverty as “inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and education, including but not limited to sanitary products, washing facilities, and waste management”(4). The World Bank estimates that 500 million worldwide are affected by this issue (5). Reports and studies indicate that lack of research (6), adequate sanitation infrastructure (7), and stigma (8) are among the main challenges to solving this problem. An increased risk of “reproductive and urinary infections which can result in infertility and birth complications” is equally reported (9). According to the World Bank, period poverty also represents a challenge to the achievement of  “an environment of non-discrimination and gender equality” (10).

Period Poverty, and why we should think about it

Period poverty is a barrier to girls’ education, affecting their academic performance and putting them at risk of dropping out of school, further reducing their future economic opportunities (11), as they may be less academically qualified for high-paying jobs. The World Bank highlights the importance of guaranteeing access to “sustainable” products, as “disposable sanitary products contribute to large amounts of global waste”(12). Additionally, a study conducted in 2021 indicates wealth as a major driver of unequal access to sanitary pads in low and middle-income countries. The same study also argues that “access to lockable and safe MHM (menstrual hygiene management) spaces” is associated with the place of residence in a rural or an urban setting (13). This article aims to explore the issue of period poverty in association with economic development, highlighting the importance of urging institutions to tackle this challenge.

The (un)affordability of Menstrual Products

The level of affordability of menstrual products is one of the direct causes of period poverty. PlushCare has gathered data on “month’s supply of period products costs locally in 107 countries” (15), illustrating the results in this map.

(16) PlushCare Content Team

The data concludes that the 10 countries where period products are the most affordable are the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Luxembourg, the United States of America, Australia, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Slovakia and Poland. Conversely, these products are the least affordable in Algeria, Zambia, Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Kyrgyzstan, Honduras, Jordan, Laos, and Cambodia (17).

Period Poverty and Gender Equality in education

Period poverty is thought to negatively impact the educational achievements of girls, as it often results in absences and school dropouts (18). We gathered data on the Gender Parity Index (GPI) associated with primary and secondary school enrollment, provided by the World Bank (19). A presentation of the data will attempt to illustrate a relationship between the affordability of menstrual products and gender equality in education in the countries previously mentioned, as follows:

Greater affordability of menstrual products and its consequential reduction in period poverty among the population seems to be associated with higher educational attainment of women, represented by results indicating a high ratio of girls to boys in education- from the countries analyzed, the average Gender Parity Index is one of approximately 1.2 where period products are the most affordable, compared to one of about 0.99 where they are the least. Furthermore, it is relevant to note that all the countries in the first category are economically developed while those in the second are developing countries, according to the Human Development Index (20). Such observation suggests that different approaches to period poverty in both contexts may maximize the effectiveness of strategies to tackle the issue.

Period Poverty in Developing and in Developed countries

Studies show that period poverty is not an issue that occurs exclusively in developing countries- in fact, “the stigma of menstruation remains even in more advanced nations”, where “low-income women have difficulty affording menstrual products” (21) . ActionAid reports that the share of people suffering from period poverty in the UK reached 21% this year (22); In the United States, period products are unaffordable for two-thirds of low-income women (23); a study made in Portugal indicated that 17% of the included women struggled to afford menstrual products (24), and, in Japan, 8% of women surveyed had the same struggles (25). Besides this stigma, some propose that taxes on menstrual products contribute substantially to the persistence of period poverty in developed countries: a study conducted in the United States of America found that “tampon tax exacerbates period poverty and has a detrimental impact on women’s quality of life by decreasing the accessibility of menstrual products” (26). Another study found that, in the US, high prices for “perishable menstrual products” make buyers see them as luxury goods (27), which may perpetuate a contrary message to the view that they are “as much of a necessity” (28). On the other hand, period poverty in developing countries seems related not only to economic and social factors but also to the lack of appropriate sanitary infrastructure, like toilets and changing rooms (29). Period, as a taboo, also contributes to the increased risk of following inadequate MHM (menstrual health management) in countries like Bangladesh and Nepal, as they largely contribute to unsafe hygiene practices (30).

The “Tampon Tax”

Multiple countries in the world impose the “tampon tax” on menstrual products, frequently targeted as “luxury goods” (31). This categorization enhances the chances that economic disparities limit access to period products and perpetuates the view that they are not a “necessity” (32). Following the measure already taken in countries such as Kenya, India, or Jamaica (33), eliminating this tax could benefit people who menstruate all around the world and limit the financial burden of purchasing period products on them. This measure would be particularly effective in lifting those from lower-income backgrounds from a context of period poverty. Although the “tampon tax” is a significant generator of government revenue- in California alone, the elimination of this tax is expected to reduce government revenue by 55 million dollars/year (34)- the long-term investment of governments in reducing menstrual poverty is likely to bring compensating financial benefits following economic growth.

The Economics of Period Poverty, in numbers

Although there is little research on the topic, it is predictable that tackling the issue of period poverty is an effective way for governments to incentivize economic growth and development (35). A study conducted by the World Bank suggests that a 1% increase in the secondary education of girls is expected to increase the country’s annual income per capita by 0.3% (36)- approximately 6% of the world's annual growth/per capita in 2021; 5.7% of that registered in high-income countries, and about 7% of that registered in lower-middle income countries, for the same year (37).

The case of Scotland

To tackle period poverty, Scotland made period products free in 2021 (38). A brief overview of this case and an assessment of the policy’s impact may contribute to finding efficient solutions for this issue. “Key success factors” have been identified by researchers in the case of Scotland’s Free Products Act of 2021. Among them, there were efficient, established commercial distribution networks, the Act’s efforts in “combating” the stigma of menstruation, its incentive to the use of sustainable menstrual products, and the inclusiveness of the Act, which was considered to be “supportive of transgender rights, by acknowledging that not all menstruators identify as female” (39). A study conducted by YoungScot in 2020 concluded that “among those who accessed the free products, 84% said the scheme had a positive impact on them, 83% said they were less worried about having their period, 60% were more able to continue with day-to-day activities during their period, and 23% said having access to products improved their mental health and wellbeing” (40). At the level of the United Kingdom,” Amongst respondents who were able to access free period products…, 48% said it has enabled them to take part in (more) clubs, PE, sports… whether in or out of school” (41). Public Bill consultation also found that the large majority of people supported the policy (42). Besides reducing the costs of menstruators, the Act is argued to “extend the menstrualescape to state-sponsored acceptance of industrial products as the universal way to manage menstruation”, representing a “significant economic boost for the manufacturers and distributors of tampons and pads both in Scotland and internationally”, which is further likely to boost a sector that is projected to rise, globally, to 62.7 billion USD by 2033 (43).

What can we do?

  • The issue of affordability remains significant in the persistence of period poverty. Reducing the tampon tax, making period products free, or increasing their availability in educational institutions may be effective in reducing the economic burden that period poses on people who menstruate.
  • Investing in sanitary infrastructure, especially in schools, is particularly relevant to tackling period poverty, particularly in developing countries.
  • Studies have highlighted the importance of period education, for all genders, in tackling period poverty (44). As a long-term solution, this policy would reduce the stigma around menstruation, being likely to reduce its negative impacts on menstruators’ physical and mental well-being (45).
  • There is a lack of research on the issue of period poverty and its consequences (46). Increased investment in research and development will promote more effective policy-making by governments and contribute to better identifying the areas of potential intervention for non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations.
  1. Gouvernement Français
  2. Artz
  3. The Scottish Government
  4. Alvarez
  5. World Bank Group
  6. Geng
  7. Burt et al.
  8. Geng
  9. World Bank Group
  10. World Bank Group
  11. World Bank Group
  12. World Bank Group
  13. Rossouw and Ross
  14. Sacca et al.
  15. PlushCare Content Team
  16. PlushCare Content Team
  17. PlushCare Content Team
  18. World Bank Group
  19. The World Bank
  20. United Nations
  21. Jaafar et al.
  22. Pycroft
  23. Carroll
  24. André
  25. Osumi
  26. Jaafar et al.
  27. Ahmad Suhaimi et al.
  28. Rodriguez
  29. World Bank Group
  30. World Bank Group
  31. Ahmad Suhaimi et al.
  32. Rodriguez
  33. Rodriguez
  34. Rodriguez
  35. Khurana and Kaur
  36. Chaaban and Cunningham
  37. The World Bank and OECD
  38. The Scottish Government
  39. Bildhauer et al.
  40. The Scottish Government
  41. The Scottish Government
  42. The Scottish Government
  43. Verghese
  44. Tull
  45. Marí-Klose et al.
  46. Michel et al.


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André, Carolina. “O Palavrão Começado Com p: Pobreza Menstrual.” PÚBLICO, Público, 25 May 2022,

Artz, Jaxx. “Period Poverty: New Zealand Announces Free Menstrual Products for All Students.” Global Citizen, Global Citizen, 18 Feb. 2021,

Bildhauer, Bettina, et al. “Briefing paper:  assessing the period products (free provision) (Scotland) act 2021 as model menstruation legislation.” The Politics and History of Menstruation: Contextualising the Scottish Campaign to End Period Poverty, vol. 1, no. 1, 2022,

Burt, Zachary, et al. “Towards Gender Equality through Sanitation Access .” Towards Gender Equality through Sanitation Access - Resources • SuSanA, UN Women, Mar. 2016,

Geng, Caitlin. “What Is Period Poverty?” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 16 Sept. 2021,

Carroll, Linda. “Even in the U.S., Poor Women Often Can’t Afford Tampons, Pads.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 10 Jan. 2019,

Chaaban, Jad, and Wendy Cunningham. “Measuring the Economic Gain of Investing in Girls - the World Bank.” World Bank Group eLibrary, The World Bank Human Development Network Children and Youth Unit & Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Network Gender Unit, Aug. 2011,

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Jaafar, Hafiz, et al. “Period Poverty: A Neglected Public Health Issue.” Korean Journal of Family Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2023,

Khurana, Sachika, and Preetkiran Kaur. “International Journal of Policy Sciences and Law Volume 1, Issue 1 - IJPSL.” International Journal of Policy Sciences and Law, International Journal of Policy Sciences and Law, 2020,

Marí-Klose, Marga, et al. “Period Poverty and Mental Health in a Representative Sample of Young Women in Barcelona, Spain.” BMC Women’s Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 28 Apr. 2023,

“Menstrual Health and Hygiene.” World Bank, World Bank Group, 30 May 2023,,menstrual%20hygiene%20management%20(MHM).

Michel, Janet, et al. “Period Poverty: Why It Should Be Everybody’s Business: Published in Journal of Global Health Reports.” Journal of Global Health Reports, International Society of Global Health, 22 Feb. 2022,

Osumi, Magdalena. “Some Women in Japan Struggle to Buy Menstruation Products as Pandemic Dents Finances.” The Japan Times, The Japan Times, 24 Mar. 2022,

“Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act 2021: Equality Impact Assessment.” Scottish Government, The Scottish Government, 22 Aug. 2022,

PlushCare Content Team. How Much Does Having a Period Cost in Every Country? 9 June 2023. PlushCare, PlushCare, Accessed 27 Oct. 2023.

PlushCare Content Team. “The Cost of Having Your Period in Every Country and U.S. State.” The Cost of Having Your Period in Every Country and U.S. State, PlushCare, 9 June 2023,

Pycroft, Hollie. “Cost of Living: UK Period Poverty Has Risen from 12% to 21% in a Year.” ActionAid UK, ActionAid UK, 26 May 2023,

Rodriguez, Leah. “Men Finally Realized Period Products Should Be Free When They Were Forced to Pay for Toilet Paper.” Global Citizen, Global Citizen, 9 Mar. 2020,

Rodriguez, Leah. “The Tampon Tax: Everything You Need to Know.” Global Citizen, Global Citizen, 28 June 2021,

Rossouw, Laura, and Hana Ross. “Understanding period poverty: Socio-economic inequalities in menstrual hygiene management in eight low- and middle-income countries.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 18, no. 5, 2021, p. 2571,

Sacca, Lea, et al. “Editorial: Period Poverty.” Frontiers in Reproductive Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 7 Feb. 2023,

Tull, Kerina. “Period Poverty Impact on the Economic Empowerment of Women - GOV.UK.” UK Government, University of Leeds Nuffield Centre for International Health and Development, 23 Jan. 2019,

United Nations. “Human Development Index.” Human Development Reports, United Nations Development Programme, 17 July 2023,

Verghese, Sneha. “Feminine Hygiene Products Market.” Future Market Insights, Future Market Insights, Dec. 2022,

The World Bank , and OECD. “Annual Growth of GDP per Capita.” Our World in Data, Our World in Data, 2021,

The World Bank. “School Enrollment, Gender Parity Index.” World Bank Gender Data Portal, World Bank Gender Data Portal, 2022,

From: Sciences Po Menton
More posts by Maria Francisca Moutinho Ricardo da Costa.
Thinking Period Poverty Economically
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