The Invisible Crisis of Period Poverty

– Megha Kajale

    SY BSc


Periods are annoying and uncomfortable to say the least. They bring with them a whole lot of problems- physical and emotional. Yet, these problems remain largely unseen by the world, invisible, as if they simply do not exist. 

The World Bank estimates that around 500 million menstruators globally (women, trans gender and non binary individuals) lack access to menstrual products and adequate facilities for proper menstrual hygiene management. In a world where countries strive for economic prosperity and technological advancement, the reproductive and menstrual health of women remains largely forgotten, causing a major blow to their overall development. According to the National Family Health Survey 2019-21, more than 30% of women in India, between the ages of 15 and 24 do not use hygienic methods of protection like sanitary napkins, locally produced napkins, tampons and menstrual cups during their menses. 

The phenomenon of Period Poverty is described by the UNFPA as “the struggle many low-income women and girls face while trying to afford menstrual products.” It highlights the financial vulnerability and the social, economic and cultural barriers encountered by a shockingly large number of the menstruating population. 

The Gaping Hole in the Wallet

The cost of having a period is not cheap. Assuming that an average Indian woman spends Rs 300 monthly for the necessary period products, the total cost of periods during her lifetime (say 40 menstruating years) adds up to about Rs 1.4 lakh. This is excluding the expenses for painkillers, hot bags and a tremendous amount of ruined clothes. In India’s predominantly patriarchal households, women often do not have the choice to make their own decisions, personal or financial. The stigma around the topic of menstruation is one of the reasons why expenditure on sanitary products is lower than necessary. That said, stigma is not the only reason for the restricted access to hygienic sanitary options. According to a report by Oxfam India, the top 1% of India owned more than 40.5% of the country’s total wealth in 2021 while the bottom 50% owned a mere 3%. Thus, many menstruating individuals simply do not have the financial strength to buy hygienic sanitary products. People from low income backgrounds already lie at a disadvantage, facing discrimination and deprivation due to their caste or religion.  For women living in these conditions, management of their menstrual health becomes even harder. The opportunity cost of buying sanitary products for these women living in poverty can may well be sacrificing a meal of the day. In the trade-off between food and basic sanitary hygiene, the winner becomes obvious. Families, very often, have to fight for their survival each and every day. Health, in these cases, especially women’s menstrual health, becomes insignificant.

Government schemes like the Menstrual Hygiene Scheme launched in 2011, provide sanitary napkins to adolescent girls at a subsidised rate. While this has been the cause of some progress, the lack of proper sanitation facilities at schools and the prevalent stigma around the topic leaves a lot of work to be done. 

Externalities Matter

Women regularly face extreme types of social and economic exclusion, shunned by their own community and subjected to shame and isolation while menstruating. Studies show that a significant link exists between period poverty and depression, a rise of which was observed during the Covid 19 pandemic.

These negative externalities of period poverty have a significant impact on women’s access to education. A report by the NGO Dasra and The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) noted that 23 million girls in India drop out of school annually due to a lack of appropriate provisions for the management of their period. Lack of clean water and sanitation facilities in school results in absenteeism, creating a vicious cycle contributing to a drop in academic performance and impediments to their future opportunities. 


The lack of education for girls can lead to substantial losses in national wealth.  Better menstrual health management can profit economies. With every 1% increase in the proportion of women with secondary education, a country’s annual per capita income grows by 0.3%. The economic impact of period poverty is far-reaching. It hinders education, workforce participation, and economic mobility, and reinforces inequalities. Career advancement opportunities are hindered due to missed workdays and reduced productivity coupled with the lack of supportive workplace policies and adequate facilities. This exacerbates and contributes to the perpetuation of economic inequality. 

Periods? What Periods?

The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted a lot of lives and exposed the existing vulnerabilities across various aspects of society. The onset of the pandemic only intensified the issue of period poverty in India. In a major policy making blunder, the Government of India failed to include menstrual products as essential items during the pandemic, shutting down the supply of sanitary pads. Though this decision was revised a week later, the damage was already done to millions, since setting up the supply chain took time. Closure of schools meant that adolescent girls could no longer take advantage of the schemes implemented for their benefit. For many girls, schools provided a safe and supportive environment equipped with menstrual hygiene facilities.

The inability of the government to make well educated and informed policy decisions on the topic of menstrual health was highlighted before the pandemic too, when 12% GST was imposed on sanitary products on all sanitary products in 2018 and was removed only after months of campaigning by activists. 

Period poverty, a silent crisis affecting millions worldwide, remains hidden in the shadows of societal discourse. Despite its far-reaching implications on health, education, and gender equality, this pressing issue has long been disregarded and overlooked by the men in charge. 

The lack of literature and comprehensive data and research in this area is a challenge for  policymakers, academics, and researchers who often struggle to grasp the full scope of the problem and develop effective strategies to combat it. Without sufficient data, period poverty remains concealed and its impact underestimated.


Period poverty is not just a gender issue. It is not just a health issue either. It is an economic, social and political issue that is perpetuated by the existing societal biases. India is in dire need of a holistic approach to battle period poverty. Addressing period poverty requires understanding the economic and social realities faced by marginalised communities. Education about menstrual health, different types of menstrual products and their accessibility are the main points that need focus. The situation is distressing, but it would be wrong to say that no change has taken place. Numerous NGOs, and government programmes have made safe sanitary management possible for millions. According to India’s National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-V (2019-21), around 70% of young women in India  use hygienic methods of menstrual protection, an improvement from 2015-16, when around 57% reported using hygienic methods of menstrual protection. Bihar and Kerala have introduced menstrual leave policies for women. Progress has been made. But there still remain a lot of battles to be won. 

Anyone who menstruates -Women, trans men and non binary individuals – deserve the right to be unashamed  and unapologetic of their body’s biological process. They deserve the right to bleed freely and bleed with dignity. PERIOD.

Leave a Reply