The cost of menstruation around the world
The UK, Switzerland and Luxembourg are the most affordable countries for period products, while Algeria, Zambia and Nigeria are the most expensive, according to a new report.
PlushCare, a virtual healthcare platform, assessed how period products like tampons, sanitary pads and painkillers are priced around the world. Researchers looked at the combined local cost of one month’s supply in 107 countries and each state in the US, comparing the cost to the average local person’s monthly income.
The most affordable country is the UK, where the average cost of period products is $3.61 a month, equivalent to 0.12% of someone’s salary. Additionally in 2020, Scotland introduced the Period Products Act, which made period products free for anyone who needs them.
The UK is followed by Switzerland, where the average monthly cost is $7.67, and Luxembourg where it is $10.62. People residing in these countries have relatively high wages compared to the rest of the world, with the portion of their salaries spent on period products being 0.14% and 0.19% a month respectively.
In Australia, ranked fifth of the most affordable countries according to the report, menstrual products have been available for free to secondary school students since March this year.
The least affordable countries for period products
Menstrual products are most expensively priced in Algeria, where it costs $34.05 on average per month to purchase period products – the equivalent of 14.8% of someone’s monthly salary. It is followed by Jordan ($26.51) and South Korea ($25.40), however wages are significantly higher in these two countries.
When taking into account wages along with cost, the least affordable countries are Algeria, Zambia and Nigeria (tied) and Ghana.
The research also shows that countries with the cheapest period products are not necessarily the most affordable. While El Salvador has the lowest cost for menstrual products at $1.09 a month, the average monthly wage is just $260 (according to World Bank figures), meaning that the central American country doesn’t make it into the list of most affordable countries.
The study also notes the price difference between disposable period products and eco-friendly alternatives. Interestingly, there is little difference in cost between the two most expensive countries (in Algeria disposable products are $34.05 vs $31.04 for eco-friendly ones, and in Jordan the cost is $26.51 vs $22.29), however in South Korea eco-friendly items are less than half the price.
In many ‘wealthier’ nations including Italy, Saudi Arabia and Luxembourg, eco-friendly period products are far more expensive than disposable ones, while the reverse seems to be true in poorer nations. In the US however, there is little difference between the two.
The impact of period poverty
PlushCare’s report highlights how period poverty in Ghana, where menstrual products are classed as luxury items, is leading some women and girls to use rags in place of sanitary products. It is estimated that around 50% of all women and girls worldwide use rags, grass and paper to manage their periods, which poses a significant risk to their health as these can cause urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis.
As well as health problems, period poverty perpetuates gender inequality. In Africa 1 in 10 girls miss school because of their periods, causing them to fall behind boys of their age. In India it is estimated that 23% of young girls drop out of school permanently when they start menstruating.
The stigma around menstruating also has tragic consequences – in Kenya, a 14-year-old schoolgirl killed herself after a teacher shamed her for staining her uniform during her first period.
In recent years there have been moves to tackle this problem – with some western countries introducing menstrual leave and lowering or removing taxes on period products, while elsewhere activists are taking it upon themselves to create affordable, eco-friendly products such as Cameroon’s Kuja Eco Pads.