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Combatting Period Poverty at Work

By Princess Avianne Charles

Period poverty remains a global issue, negatively impacting the lives of people who menstruate daily. As stated by Caitlin Geng, Medical News Today; “Period poverty is a lack of access to menstrual products, education, hygiene facilities, waste management, or a combination of these.” It impacts persons across diasporas, with different cultures, sexualities, and more—rather than being centered on cis-heterosexual women. For many menstruating persons, period poverty is a great challenge and particularly for those who work, this affects their ability to safely navigate through the workplace. These persons may be excluded from the topic of period poverty with the expectancy that they can financially access the necessary products when at times this is not the case.

Each person’s cycle is different and this factors in one’s individual needs and care. Symptoms, duration of the cycle, and existing medical conditions determine one’s decisions, allowing them to evaluate what best suits them. Items such as menstrual cups, pads, tampons, washable pads, and more are items that can be inaccessible to those with financial and time-related, or other relevant constraints. Where items aren’t accessible, persons can use harmful alternatives.

Globally, approximately 500 million persons experience period poverty, as noted by the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO). In a local context, data provided by Feminitt’s Safe Cycle Report states that of 509 respondents, 51.5 percent have voted that period products are not affordable. To narrow this down further; 16.4 percent have missed work, school or an event due to a lack of menstrual products. This means that in that category, there are those who are employed and unable to obtain menstrual products at their expense.

Out of all participants of the Safe Cycle Report, 87.9 percent state that no support is offered for persons to access free period products. This is alarming both on a local and global scale, as the persons affected globally are on a wider scale. In the workplace it is left to question what is in place to eliminate the dire effects of period poverty for employees. Are there free period products? Education on menstruation? Sick leave for employees with painful symptoms? For many the answer to this remains at no, and that remains of utmost concern and importance. This is where understanding and changing workplace culture comes in; reevaluating the managerial actions that contribute to such risk—those of which are often ignored.

There are workplaces where there is great expectancy on one’s cycle remaining a “personal” matter and separate entity from the activities of work, disregarding how decisions within can alter one’s experience. If a person is on their period and works extremely long durations with little to no breaks, there is the risk that they may forget to change products when required or use harmful alternatives if time constricts them. If one experiences painful symptoms, strenuous tasks can worsen them—which is when sick leave should be recommended. How management and other employees view menstruation will be reflected on the measures in place.

Workplace culture plays a critical role in mitigating the effects of period poverty at work, and more often than not this is not accomplished. For those with familiarity with discourse about periods at school, it is understood how beneficial that was—reminiscing on the efforts made for the sake of one’s awareness, education and safety. This is something that shouldn’t stop at the introductory phase but transgress into all avenues of our lives, especially at work. As we exist in a society that is male cis-heterosexual centered, the topic of menstruation is treated as taboo and held with many stigmas.

What we’ve often seen is employees having to function in silence, afraid of the consequences of management and other employees for voicing their concerns. The stigmas associated with periods create an environment where persons are scorned, dismissed, and even ridiculed for their symptoms—where at times management exacerbates this by providing no educational training or resources to reduce stigmas. They can uphold the environment by reinforcing behaviors that force employees to ignore the severity of their symptoms.

Management has a role in enforcing policies and behaviors that encapsulate all components to eliminate the effects of period poverty at work and its associated stigmas. It can cover the following fields: education, provision of products, sick leave, and financial assistance. Educational resources require a gender neutral and an empathetic approach to discussing menstruation. It must entail content regarding stages in the cycle, symptoms, types of products, and medical conditions of relevance. Debunking myths will help to eliminate stigmas, as well as acknowledging cultural and religious differences that can contribute to varying practices.

When persons are well informed, they can then make choices that best suit their needs. Here, management can supply period packages and other relevant items for persons in their time of need. Having a kit similarly to that of first aid will treat it as a necessity rather than a luxury, keeping in mind that this is inclusive, and can change according to the requirements of employees. It is also important to provide time for employees to seek medical care when necessary.

Financial assistance can also go an extremely long way in ensuring persons can independently acquire their own products and services without making detrimental sacrifices. The cost of products can be out of the way for people, especially when things arise outside of their budgeted expenses. Similarly, a paid leave of absence or sick leave should always be encouraged for persons who experience painful symptoms or cannot function as they normally would. This provides an opportunity for rest and self-care, prioritizing their well-being and safety.

We need a comprehensive system that targets ending period poverty in all areas of society. Exclusion is counterproductive and creates greater risks for those who aren’t involved in the conversation and efforts towards change. With the data, experiences and insight that we have now, it is imperative that we use these details to guide us through the process. Eliminating period poverty at work is just as significant as in any other environment—understanding that all concerns in the workplace intersects with every other factor of one’s life. This is a call to continue listening to employees and provide them with the necessary resources and educational content to create safer spaces and practices for their well-being.

About the author:

Princess Avianne Charles is a Trinidadian writer and blogger. With experience in the field of Occupational Safety and Health, she promotes safer spaces and advocates for human rights both in and out of the workplace.

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