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Canadians do not rank menstruation within the top five barriers to education

despite period poverty causing millions to miss up to two years of school

May 28 2024

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This Menstrual Hygiene Day, Canadian charity, Children Believe, and Carefree® Liners,
call for support to end period poverty with new ‘Every Week Counts: Period.’ campaign

A new survey by Canadian charity, Children Believe to mark Menstrual Hygiene Day, May 28, has found that Canadians do not rank menstruation as a top barrier to education, despite period poverty causing millions to miss up to two years of school. One in six Canadians (17 per cent) have personally experienced period poverty and this problem is far more pronounced in developing countries where menstrual care resources are limited. Through the new ‘Every Week Counts: Period.’ campaign, Children Believe and Carefree® Liners aim to promote the choices of adolescent girls to stay in school and protect them from the many dangers of period poverty, including sexual exploitation and early marriage.

Period Poverty Problem

The World Banki notes that period poverty – a lack of access to menstrual products, hygiene facilities, waste management and education – is a real crisis affecting half a billion women and girls worldwide. With it comes not only missed school time, but a damaging stigma, human rights violations and even vulnerability to sexual exploitation. UNESCO reports estimate that one in 10 girls in Sub-Saharan Africa misses school during their menstrual cycle, while a study conducted in India with 100,000 girls found that 25% of the girls aged between 10 and 19 missed school when they were on their period. By some estimates, this equals as much as 20 per cent of a given school year and almost two years of education lost per girl. Imagine the missed opportunities; for them, for their communities, and globally, given that girls are an untapped solution to many of the world's biggest issues, including climate change.

Sex in Exchange for Period Products

Due to period poverty, a sad reality is that many girls are reporting being asked to exchange sex for hygiene products. “Sometimes your parents cannot afford to give you pads, girls sometimes feel pressured to receive money from boys to take care of themselves and the boys then expect to get something in return,” said 16-year-old Iddisu from Ghana. 

Perhaps startlingly, Children Believe’s survey results showed that 38 per cent of Canadians think it's likely that people who menstruate need to exchange sex for hygiene products.

“Sadly, reports of such exchanges are true,” says Kizzy Oladeinde, Senior Communications Officer and Lead Researcher for the Campaign at Children Believe Canada. “However, if this is the case for one child, it is one too many. This statistic suggests acknowledgment of likely routine abuse. It’s time for Canadians to help us face this reality head on and deliver crucial services and support.”

‘Every Week Counts: Period.’ 

May 28 marks Menstrual Hygiene Day and Children Believe, along with Carefree® Liners, want Canadians to support its ‘Every Week Counts: Period.’ campaign that delivers critical hygiene kits, community programs and menstrual health education in countries including India, Ghana and Burkina Faso. On May 28, Carefree® will match donations for female hygiene kits, doubling the impact and ensuring more individuals receive the essential products they need.

“Removing barriers to education can change the world. In fact, if every girl worldwide received 12 years of quality education, these educated women could contribute approximately $30 trillion to the global economy, says Oladeinde. “To defend the choices of 1.8 billion people who menstruate each month, we need to ensure their access to hygiene, health services and education to preserve their dignity and children’s ability to stay in school. Two years is two too many.”

The stigma and limited supply surrounding periods and period products in developing countries prevents many from getting the care, education and supplies to manage their menstrual health effectively, but with support, Children Believe’s programs will help children to fight the stigma and take back up to two years of education that they deserve.

Survey Reveals Canadians Shockingly Unaware of Period Poverty Pandemic

The survey found that nearly three-quarters of Canadians realize the life-changing possibilities that can be achieved in two years, from earning a work promotion, to starting a business, or learning a new language, but the reality is that millions of adolescent girls in developing countries routinely miss one week per month, which could total two years of school due to the period poverty pandemic.

Unfortunately, equal access to education isn’t within reach for millions as period poverty remains one of several barriers to education in developing countries. While Canadians can celebrate the government mandating that essential period products be accessible in offices, schools and businesses, the same cannot be said for millions worldwide who face political, economic and social issues. Thirty-one per cent of respondents believed that period products are easily available worldwide, however money and distribution strongly impact access.

Ninety-nine per cent of Canadians believe in equal access to education and 94 per cent understand the impact missing school for an extended time can have on a child’s development, however it seems that menstruation is not recognized as a leading reason. In the survey, 51 per cent of Canadians ranked ‘illness or injury’ as the most likely cause for children to miss school, while only one per cent of the population ranked menstruation at the top. While injury or illness can be sporadic, menstruation can be a painful, uncomfortable and limiting bodily experience that affects people who menstruate month after month. Just imagine the impact of repeatedly missing one week in every four.

“Missing one week in four due to menstruation can cause detrimental learning loss and create vocational setbacks for people who menstruate through no fault of their own,” says Shirley Chanyi, from Carefree® Canada. “Carefree® believes these missed opportunities must be immediately addressed, which is why we are matching hygiene kit donations and helping to ensure Children Believe’s work reaches those in need.”

Why Canadians Should Care

Education has the power to address some of the world’s biggest issues. Proper menstrual hygiene can empower women and girls to lead fulfilling lives and make an impact on society.

Canadians can help break barriers so that people who menstruate don’t have to continue sacrificing education for a natural, biological function.

Carefree® and Children Believe are dedicated to combating period poverty. Those who are able to donate can help by purchasing a “Female Hygiene Kit for a Year.” To show your support and learn how you can help make Every Week Count, sign up at ChildrenBelieve.ca/EveryWeekCounts.

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