Oct 6, 2021 2:41:07 PM | 6 Min Read

What is Period Poverty?


*image reflects numbers from 9 months ago. Below is an updated impact number.




By: Elizabeth Endara

On any given day more than 800 million people are menstruating. Nearly 40% of those menstruating individuals have little to no access to hygiene products, menstrual hygiene education, or facilities for cleansing and disposal. This inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and education is called period poverty. Period poverty can have devastating impacts for people who menstruate. It affects a person’s health and hygiene, their ability to go to school or work, and their overall quality of life. 




For students, lack of access to menstrual products can directly impact their education. In the US, 1 in 5 students have missed school because of a lack of period products, and only 4 states (California, Illinois, New Hampshire, and New York) require schools to provide menstrual products for free to students in grades six through twelve.

Incarcerated People:

In many prisons, incarcerated people have the option to purchase hygiene products from a commissary, but this is often unaffordable due to extremely low hourly salaries. Federal prisons purportedly began providing free pads and tampons to female inmates in 2017, but this is not consistently applied, and does not help the majority of incarcerated folks in state and local prisons. 

People Experiencing Homelessness

For those in the unhoused community, accessing menstrual products, as well as bathrooms and showers, is an ongoing difficulty. For one thing, most American programs designed to help families living in poverty (Snap, WIC, etc.) exclude menstrual products. Recently, Governor Pritzker signed HB155, which states recipients of SNAP, WIC and TANF can purchase supplies with their benefits but it isn't clear if that has been implemented. Even more crucially, the lack of adequate support services for unhoused people who menstruate leads to compounding health risks.


The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated period poverty. Since the start of the pandemic, 73% of menstruating people reported less access to sanitary products, while 68% reported less access to facilities that enable proper changing, cleaning and disposal. As the impacts of the pandemic continue, nearly 1 in 3 parents are worried about their ongoing ability to afford period products.



An estimated 1.8 billion girls, women, and gender non-binary persons menstruate. Everyone and anyone who menstruates needs to be included in discussions and decisions about their own health. In the US, this often looks like passing more inclusive policies around menstruation. Policy is an intrinsic barrier to product access. To date, more than 30 states in the U.S. consider menstrual hygiene products “non-essential” items, thereby qualifying them for a high sales tax.

At the Chicago Period Project, our goal is for menstruating people living in poverty to experience their periods with dignity. With the help of advocates and supporters we are able to do just that. Since 2016, 750,000 products have been donated, helping 46,875 periods. Everyone who menstruates deserves to have the supplies they need to do so safely and with dignity. Through donations, volunteering, advocating, and raising awareness we can put an end to period poverty.





Topics: Period Poverty Education

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