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Period Poverty in the Climate Crisis: A Case Study on the Pakistan Floods

The floods in Pakistan last year have proved, once again, that the climate crisis is not 'gender neutral' [1], meaning that gender inequality and climate change are intrinsically linked. Women are disproportionately affected by climate related risks compared to men, including the furthering of gender inequalities that already exist in society and other concerns such as threats to their 'livelihoods, health and safety'. Especially in the developing world, women are more reliant on agriculture as an important source of employment and food. During lengthy periods of drought and rainfall, women are forced to work even harden for their families and livelihoods and girls may also be compelled to drop out of school to support their families.


A significant yet overlooked impact of climate-related risks is period poverty. Globally, 3.5 billion women and girls have periods monthly and out of this approximately 500 million experience period poverty [2].


[Image from Al Jazeera]


Period Poverty


When people who are menstruating do not have access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene, education, toilets, hand washing facilities and waste management, they experience the phenomenon of period poverty [3]. Although menstruation is a biological process, period poverty is seen as social, negatively impacting self-dignity, self-confidence and self-worth. Keeping and continuing menstrual hygiene becomes extremely difficult in the developing world where only 27% of the population own adequate hand-washing and waste management facilities [4]. Research also illustrates how women of colour and those from lower-income populations experience period poverty at a higher rate than white women and women from higher income backgrounds.


Contrary to popular and mistaken beliefs, periods do not stop during climate-related disasters such as floods, droughts and wildfires. In fact, 26 million (30%) of those displaced (82 million) by such disasters are women and girls [5], a small percentage of which have their menstrual needs met in refugee camps. Such situations can lead to physical impacts such as dangerous infections and bloodstains, along with emotional ones such as feelings of embarrassment and isolation.


Consequently, they are forced to 'be creative with their periods' and improvise other methods which tend to be ineffective, uncomfortable and unhygienic, to manage their periods utilising torn pieces of clothing, rags, dirty rugs or sitting on old tin cans [6].


The Pakistan Floods...


The Pakistan floods in 2022 was one of the largest climate-related concerns of the year [7]. Although the country has been plagued by floods and water disasters over the last two decades, these floods have been the most perilous with over one-fifth of the country's population being severely impacted [8]. There have been 1,500 deaths so far and 16 million children have been affected [9]. Heavy monsoon rains in the country have led to devastating rains, floods and landslides. Furthermore, banks and dams have been breached along some of the major rivers in the provinces of Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, along with the administrative unit of Gilgit-Baltistan, destroying homes, farms and important infrastructure such as roads, bridges, schools and public health facilities. Damage to water supply systems have resulted in millions of people no longer having access to safe drinking water and, as a result, bearing fatal water borne diseases.


...and Periods