By: Julieta Carrillo

Somewhere, there is a girl taking paper towels from a public restroom and stuffing them into her underwear to prevent her period from soaking her clothes. A 15-year-old girl told her sexual-health counselor that she had to use socks and gloves from lost and found bins for her period because she could not afford tampons or pads. Yes, this happens in the United States, too. In fact, a survey taken between July of 2017 and March of 2018 of 183 low-income women in Saint Louis, Missouri revealed that approximately 64 percent of them did not have the funds to purchase tampons or pads in the last year. Because they have no other alternatives, women are forced to use cloth, rags, tissues, toilet paper, diapers, or paper towels instead of traditional menstrual hygienic products.

Unfortunately, the explanation for this is far too simple: poverty is sexist. In comparison to men, women suffer from a greater likelihood of being impoverished, having a lack of education, and having health problems. Data collected from the U.S. Census Bureau in 2018 found that women were 36 percent more likely to live in poverty than men, with poverty rates being especially high for non-White ethnic groups of women. The reasoning behind this is simple, too. Women just don’t have the same time and resources to lift themselves out of the poverty they are born into. Women spend double the amount of time men do on household chores like cooking, cleaning, and caring, rendering them unable to do much else. Unsurprisingly, divorce, separation, and widowhood negatively affect women to a greater extent than it does men, just like single parenting.

Although much seems lost, many women’s dreams and goals can still be saved. For example, if countries focused on helping women delay their marriages, pregnancies, and have more opportunities to build on their education and skills, this sexist poverty cycle could very well be broken. How can we accomplish this? First, countries need to work on keeping girls in school. 62 million girls are currently out of school. Not only does a diploma ensure that a woman will be able to attend university and have a stable job, but countries that emphasize education for girls have lower maternal and infant deaths, lower rates of sexually transmitted diseases, and better child nutrition. Small steps from governments and organizations can make a big difference. An organization named Round Table India has been building one classroom a day for the past decade, on top of constructing a school in an isolated tribal village. The government in India has worked to supply students with bicycles to get to school and is facilitating new partnerships focused on strengthening the training process for teachers.

Additionally, it is critical to increase funding towards women’s health initiatives. Countries like Bangladesh have shifted from being classified as low-income to middle-income after the United States has invested resources for family planning. Many leading advocates and women in entrepreneurship positions are opposing the taboo label period discussions are given, while calling for businesses and governments to place menstruation considerations on their agenda when they design facilities and create their budgets. California and New York public schools have been mandated to provide period products free of charge. California and New York have also begun an additional trend by introducing legislation that will lift sales taxes on these menstrual products. Funding aimed at reproductive health, maternal health, childcare services, and sexually transmitted diseases services will fundamentally assist in levelling the playing field.

Finally, girls and women need to be given a voice for substantial change to be made. Research has shown that female lawmakers focus on issues related to health, education, family, housing, labor and civil rights, while male lawmakers pay attention to issues related to agriculture, energy, and macroeconomic policy. In countries like Senegal, women have taken the role of community facilitators with the intent to provide information to their communities that relate to health and effective sanitary habits. For policies to be helpful, they need to be shaped by women who have more perspective on the various forms of discrimination women face and the stages of their lives in which they are most vulnerable. Mothers, wives, and sisters everywhere have invested countless hours into our care and futures. It’s time we start investing back.