Miss Representation (2011) Reveals a Glaring Reality Still Relevant in 2020

Miss Representation (2011) Reveals a Glaring Reality Still Relevant in 2020


Miss Representation (2011) Reveals a Glaring Reality Still Relevant Today

Miss Representation Documentary

Parisa Zangeneh

14th September 2020


The documentary film, Miss Representation, came out in 2011, yet it remains shockingly resonant today. The film exposes how mainstream media and culture contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. As an American woman, Miss Representation strongly resonates with mebut its message is relevant to women and girls everywhere.  


The film makes several vital points: that the media poorly depicts women; that it creates a culture of misogyny; and that it harms women’s and girls’ health, development, and their ability to be seen as intellectuals, rather than sex objects. The first two minutes of Miss Representation features dozens of images showcasing the way mainstream American media portrays women. In response to this visual barrage, a young girl (who reminds me a lot of myself at that agesums it up: “There is no appreciation for women intellectuals. It’s all about the body and not about the brain.”  


The poor representation of women in and by the media permeates all aspects of women’s and girls’ lives, including the interests that girls develop as they grow up. The film highlights the many obstacles women face in political participation, not least the searing criticism, objectification, and subjugation. Young girls who have political aspirations are depicted alongside obstacles women face in political participation and the searing criticism, objectification, and subjectification of women in roles of power. This link between the depiction of women in the media and women’s participation in the political process is made clear as the film provides abundant evidence of prominent female candidates for political and judicial office, women in public service, and in hard-hitting news programs who have been reduced to their appearances in media coverageChris Matthews, for example, said of Sarah Palin: “She’s irresistibly cute, let’s put it that way, in the way she presents herself, obviously she’s attractive and all that”Michael Savage  asked“Do you know that ugly hag Madeleine Albright, remember her, the psycho, she was Secretary of State under the Clinton, like a fat moron.” Nancy Pelosi, the former Speaker of the House, was labelled the “Wicked Witch of the West” by one commentator (a google search to track down the commentator reveals too many hits referring to Pelosi as the “Wicked Witch of the West to result in identification), while Lee Rogers stated, “Look at these ugly skanks” (referring to the female Democratic leadership). Chris Baker observed that Pelosi’s perceived facelift was another reason “why it’s very rare to find a woman worthy of serving in political office.” Another, Jay Thomas, stated “I think if you waterboarded Nancy Pelosi she wouldn’t admit to plastic surgery.” 


In the years since Miss Representation was first released, progress has been questionable at best.”


Some of the language is also racialized: “Cynthia McKinney, the former Congresswoman from Georgia, was another angry black woman“. Notably, Miss Representation does not contain any reference to the negative, racialized media depictions of Michelle Obama, another prominent African American woman, in the 2008 presidential race, which directly relate to Miss Representation’s message. A greater focus on the impact of racialized language and negative media treatment of women of colour would have enriched and added depth to Miss Representation and is a missed opportunity to include the African American community to a greater degree in the film. For example, the 2020 documentary film, Becomingdepicted Michelle Obama’s vilification in the press during the 2007/2008 Presidential campaign. At one point, it cites negative media attention over the fist bump, which was alternatively called a terrorist fist jabbetween Michelle and Barack at a rally, an image of an angry-looking Michelle on the National Review with the headline “Mrs Grievance”, and voices of commentators calling her an angry woman, not warm and fuzzy, among other jabs 


In the years since Miss Representation was first released, progress has been questionable at best. One manifestation of this is how women are treated in the political arena. In 2016, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump described his opponent Hillary Clinton as a nasty woman. Recently, Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez recounted on the House floor how Representative Ted Yoho “had put his finger in [her] face” and had called her disgusting, crazy, out of her mind, dangerous, and publicly, “a f****** b****”On the other hand, women made considerable gains in representation in Congress (the legislative branch of the U.S. government) during the 2018 elections. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib were elected to Congress, making history as the first two Muslim women elected.  


However, women still face a long battle aheadAccording to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, as of August 1, 2020the United States came in at 85th in the world in a ranking of the percentage of women in parliament. Afghanistan ranked 69th. Recent headlines include coverage of racialized and sexist press attention directed at Kamala Harris, named as Democratic Presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s running mateRupert Murdoch’s The Australian published a cartoon of Biden and Harris, in which Biden states “It’s time to heal a nation divided by racism so I’ll hand you over to this little brown girl while I go for a lie-down”. 


The issues depicted in Miss Representation are clearly coming to the fore again in the U.S. election race. Hopefully, more women will be elected to office this fall and women will continue to make strides in the direction of equality. However, systemic barriers, such as the media coverage of female candidatesare very real problems that need eliminating.



Featured photo by Miss Representation (2011)



Women and the Military: Harmful ‘Feminist’ Recruitment and Whitmore

Women and the Military: Harmful ‘Feminist’ Recruitment and Whitmore


Women and the Military: Harmful ‘Feminist’ Recruitment and Whitmore

British Army 2020 recruitment Campaign Women Confidence
Aoife Burke

Aoife Burke

4th September 2020


Love Island presenter Laura Whitmore faced major backlash last month following her sponsored Instagram post promoting her appearance on the first episode of the British Army podcast ‘The Locker’. While Whitmore denied that she was trying to recruit people to the army, many condemned the paid partnership as insensitive and tone deaf. Her tribute to John Hume on twitter the same day was the subject of particular scrutiny, with some accusing her of hypocrisy and ignoring Irish history. Despite the controversy, Whitmore defended her decision to appear on the podcast, arguing that the episode presented an important discussion on gender. Although issues such as body image and being female in a maledominated industry were covered, some have questioned whether the British Army podcast is an appropriate platform for these discussions.  


As is the case with most military bodies, the British Army has a poor track record when it comes to women’s rights. The prevalence of sexual harassment within the military, the disproportionate effect of military conflict on female civilians, and the historic impact of colonialism on women’s liberation are all defining issues in the relationship between women and the army. With this in mind, it is clear why many were sceptical of Whitmore defending her collaboration with the army in the name of feminist discourse. While the British Army’s use of feminist language in their PR campaigns could be interpreted as a sign of progress, it is important to question the intentions behind this move and, most importantly, who benefits from it.  


While discussion on this topic has been focused on Laura Whitmore personally, there has been little scrutiny of what the military were trying to achieve with the collaboration, or what this controversy says about their recruitment tactics more broadly‘The Locker, the podcast that Whitmore appeared on, is dedicated to “lifelong confidence”- the theme of the 2020 military recruitment campaignThe campaign, released at the start of this year, is targeted at 18 to 24-yearolds who believe that confidence holds them back. The primary message of the campaign is that while today’s society offers youth shortterm confidence boosts, military service provides confidence that lasts a lifetimeA marketing tool that plays on the insecurities of young people is highly questionable in and of itself, but is particularly concerning in the context of military recruitment. 


British Army recruitment campaign advert for 2020 – ‘Army confidence lasts a lifetime’ (The Telegraph, 2020)

Through their podcast, social media and other marketing platforms, the 2020 recruitment campaign has presented young people with a deceptive image of military service. Far from being the beacon of confidence and stability that is portrayed, there is much evidence to suggest that army service can have a devastating impact on mental wellbeing. A study published in 2018 showed that 17% of UK military veterans who were deployed in a combative role in Iraq or Afghanistan presented symptoms of PTSD – over three times higher than the rate for UK civilians. Furthermore, while the UK does not keep records on suicide rates amongst veterans, evidence from countries such as Canada, the U.S., and Australia suggests that the risk of suicide for army veterans is far higher than it is for the general public. These issues may partly explain why the UK military is facing a crisis in both recruitment and retention, with figures released in mid-2019 revealing the army had fallen in size for the ninth consecutive year. The charity Forgotten Veterans argue that this shortfall has arisen in part from public recognition of the severe mental distress experienced by veterans.  


Given the harsh reality of military service, the British Army’s “lifelong confidence” campaign can be seen as an attempt to manipulate and exploit vulnerable youth in the name of hitting recruitment targets. Troublingly, women may be disproportionately harmed by this kind of campaigning. Women, particularly in youth, face intense social pressures and harmful patriarchal narratives that can be detrimental to their self-confidence. These issues contribute to the self-esteem gendergap, wherein women tend to be less confident than men. Because of this, any marketing campaign that is intended to play on insecurity has inherently gendered effects. As well as this, the Laura Whitmore controversy reveals that the army may be specifically targeting women’s insecurities as part of their campaign. 


“Sexual harassment, the disproportionate effect of conflict on female civilians, and the historic impact of colonialism on women’s liberation are all defining issues in the relationship between women and the army.

As Whitmore herself suggested, the podcast episode she appears on discusses the issue of confidence from a specifically female perspectiveIt is hosted by three women who speak on topics such as body image, imposter syndrome, and underrepresentation in the workplace. While this kind of discussion has the potential to be productive and empowering, it arguably had the opposite effect in this case. Underneath the language of female solidarity, the episode is essentially an advertisement for the army. Military service is continually framed as a solution to the challenges facing women’s self-esteem. It is suggested that women can be empowered by joining the army, as this proves others wrong and demonstrates that they are as competent as men. This individualistic approach masks the reality that lower confidence in women is a product of systemic misogyny that must be tackled through collective feminist actionIt also promotes the harmful idea that in order to overcome the psychological harms of being stereotyped, women need to prove themselves to others, instead of fighting the system of patriarchy that creates these stereotypes in the first place.  


Laura Whitmore British Army Podcast The Locker

Laura’s Instagram post for ‘The Locker’ podcast (@thewhitmore, 2020)

However, perhaps the most damaging part of the episode is what is left unsaid about the experience of female soldiers in the British military. In May of this year former senior officer Diane Allen spoke out about the widespread issue of sexual harassment and abuse experienced by female soldiers both historically and in the present day. She argued that power in the military is still held by a toxic cohort of senior, misogynistic, white, middle-class males.” Allen’s statements are in line with the findings of a 2019 report by the British government that revealed unacceptable levels of sexual harassment, bullying, and discrimination facing female and minority soldiers. As well as these issues, women in the army face disproportionate risks to their mental health. The 2019 Ministry of Defence report into mental health in the armed forces revealed that servicewomen were over twice as likely to present with a mental disorder than servicemen. Research from the US also suggests that female veterans are significantly more likely to commit suicide than their male counterparts. When the true experiences of female soldiers are brought to light, it seems unjustifiable that the army are advertising to young, insecure women with the promise of empowerment.  


Ultimately, female liberation is about more than individual women occupying roles that have been traditionally held by men. Liberation is about tearing down entire systems of inequality and holding those who have perpetuated them accountableIt is therefore a step in the wrong direction when institutions that have consistently undermined women’s rights are allowed to co-opt the language of female empowerment for their own gainThe recruitment of young women into military service by preying on their lack of confidence is to the benefit of the British Army alone. This PR move appears without any recognition of the experiences of female soldiers; it comes without any promise of change and, despite what Laura Whitmore might suggest, it is anything but feminist.


Stay tuned for episode 2 of this series which will explore the disproportionate effect of war and conflict on civilian women.



Featured photo by Ministry of Defence



Tampon Taboo: The Ad Ban that Displayed the Existing Social Stigma of Periods

Tampon Taboo: The Ad Ban that Displayed the Existing Social Stigma of Periods


Tampon Taboo: The Ad Ban that Displayed the Existing Social Stigma of Periods

Shot of the tampax ad where two women disucss tampons

22nd August 2020


“You gotta get ‘em up there, girls!” reads the tagline for Tampax’s latest TV advertisement, Tampons and Tea, featuring a mock chat show in which a host and guest discuss correct tampon usage. This ad was controversially pulled from Irish television at the end of July after 84 viewers issued complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI). ASAI accepted that the ad caused widespread offence andbanned it from being shown again in its current format.  

The manufacturers, Procter & Gamble, defended the ad based on its instructive intentTampons and Tea was created in response to findings that revealed 42% of women are not inserting tampons correctly and about 80% of women feel discomfort while wearing them.  

Out of the 84 complaints received by the ASAI, several critiqued the advert for containing sexual innuendo, being unsuitable for children and demeaning to women. While the ASAdid not take action against the ad based on these claims, it is still disturbing to see terms such as “sexual”, “unsuitable” and “demeaning” employed in conversations about women’s periods in modern Ireland.  

It is maddening to think that anyone could call Tampons and Tea demeaning to women yet have no issue with the majority of unrealistic adverts for menstrual products. These ads generally focus on concealing periods anddepicting them as a problem, rather than a natural, lived experience. The women are portrayed smiling, laughing and carefree in the outdoors usually practicing some variation of an extreme sport whiledressed scantily in white. Flash forward to the next frame where a strange clinical blue liquid is used to indicate their menstrual blood.  

It’s also hardly demeaning to suggest some women may not know how to insert a tampon correctly, especially when you consider the reality that period-centred education is worryingly substandard. Most girls who have attended school in Ireland will know that education surrounding tampons usually extends to the best way to conceal them discreetly up a jumper sleeve! Classroom curriculums are typically limited to the biological workings of the menstrual cycle, and neglect to acknowledge the practical, everyday implications of periods.

 This lack of formal education leads to misinformationand this is relevant for all genders. I find it in part amusing, in part shocking, the number of males I’ve encountered who mistakenly believed that sanitary towels are stuck to the skin of the person instead of to their underwear! 


“Tampons and Tea was created in response to findings that revealed 42% of women are not inserting tampons correctly and about 80% of women feel discomfort while wearing them”

On Newstalk, Ciara Kelly slammed the decision to remove the ad and lamented the persistent sexualisation of women’s bodies, arguing that from the female perspective, a vagina functions for much more than sexIt’s just a bit of our body […] it sits there, it’s like having an elbow” she rationalized. While one might automatically lay the blame on men for the cancellation of the advert, surprising 83% of the complaints received about Tampons and Tea came from women. This points to worrying culture of shame surrounding the female body and its functions 

Social stigma, combined with inefficient education surrounding menstruation, means that periods are largely not spoken about. Women are taught from an early age in school, and by society, that periods are embarrassing and disgusting; something to be hidden and kept quiet aboutThey carry this mentality with them to adulthood. Yet menstruation is a natural phenomenon which half of the world’s population experience. The lack of open discussion means that women are suffering in silence.  

Last month, STAND featured an article about period poverty in Ireland, noting the lack of support and supplies available for many people who have periods. It says a lot about societal priorities that a Tampax advert is deemed too offensive to broadcast, when many in Ireland cannot even afford tampons due to period poverty. 

The power and influence of advertising must not be forgotten. Although lighthearted in tone, ads such as Tampons and Tea carry a social impact. Positively, the decision to ban the advert has been met with widespread criticism. This is a hopeful sign that, although 84 members of the public hold outdated views on menstruation, there are other voices. Periods must be discussed unashamedly in our everyday conversations. It is essential for women and people with periods everywhere that their basic bodily functions are not taboo.  



Featured photo by Tampax




Misconceptions of ‘The Pandemic as the Greatest Equaliser’ – Growing Challenges to Gender Equality in the Workplace during the Covid-19 Crisis

Misconceptions of ‘The Pandemic as the Greatest Equaliser’ – Growing Challenges to Gender Equality in the Workplace during the Covid-19 Crisis


Misconceptions of ‘The Pandemic as the Greatest Equaliser’ – Growing Challenges to Gender Equality in the Workplace during the Covid-19 Crisis

Statues of female steel workers with facemasks

14th August 2020

Many of us have heard the common phrase, ‘covid is the great equaliser’, being used to express our shared experience and hardship of the impact of the pandemic. However, upon reflection, our individual lived experiences of the pandemic cannot be described as anyway close to equal. The pandemic has shed light on many pre-existing inequalities in society and has highlighted and amplified the inadequate support for some of the most vulnerable in our society, such as those from poor socioeconomic backgrounds. 

One perhaps unexpected inequality that has been amplified during the pandemic is gender inequality. Both an Garda Síochána and non-profit organisations such as Women’s Aid and Safe Ireland have released figures of increasing phone calls and disturbances relating to domestic abuse to women. Women’s Aid have reported a chilling 39% increase in domestic abuse related phone calls in recent months. Studies have also shown that lockdown has disproportionately negatively impacted women’s working lives rather than men. This has been linked to the burden of childcare during creche and school closures usually falling on women, even forcing them to resign in some cases. 

According to the European Commission, women are carrying out the majority of unpaid work in the home at this time. Another recent study undertaken by the University College London found that mothers working from home only achieve one hour of uninterrupted work (interrupted through tending to children, chores etc.) for every three hours uninterrupted of their male parent counterparts.

The announcement in June by the department of Education to fully reopen schools was therefore an extremely welcome one for many parents who would otherwise struggle to find adequate childcare during school times. Speaking from personal experience as a retail worker during the pandemic, many of my female colleagues had no option but to stay at home, as they were unable to find any sort of childcare during school and creche closures and grandparents who were cocooning were also unable to help out with child minding. This issue was not encountered by many male counterparts. However, the uncertainty of the current back-to-school-situation is still causing stress for many working parents.


“Women’s Aid have reported a chilling 39% increase in domestic abuse related phone calls in recent months”

Covid-19 case numbers are increasing, and backlash continues to arise from some teacher unions and principals over safety and legal concerns, including lack of public guidance on schools reopening. Teacher unions have recently stated that some schools may reopen on a staggered basis. The situation therefore continues to vacillate, just weeks before the planned reopening of schools. In turn, this fuels concerns that many parent’s careers may be jeopardised should they not be able to return to work, the majority of which being disproportionately female. 

Another more controversial facet of this matter  is the proposed actions by the government to compensate mothers whose babies were born during the pandemic. Following protests outside the Dail earlier last month and the establishment of the popular #ExtendMaternityLeave2020  social media campaign, Taoiseach  Micheál Martin announced that he will give a considered response to the proposal of extending maternity leave to those mothers.  This is due to the usual supports which are available in the months following childbirth, for example development checks and hospital appointments, being unavailable during lockdown.                         

This is compounded by the issue of limited capacity creche spaces as a result of public guidance measures which may obstruct some new mothers from returning to work as planned. Many have disagreed with the solution of extending maternity leave payments, which has yet to be confirmed months from now in the next budget in October. It has been argued that the real priority should be the ongoing lack of accessible and affordable childcare. Following the impact of lockdown, it is now an issue that needs to be addressed urgently in order to prevent undesirable impacts occurring to the work equality of mothers. 

These calls have been further amplified by the recent finding from the Council of Europe that equality in women’s pay and work progression is not guaranteed in Ireland. According to their Committee of Social Rights, Ireland is one of fourteen member states that have been found to be in violation of the legally binding European Charter in equality at work. If was found that, ‘lack of transparency is a major obstacle for victims of pay discrimination to prove discrimination and thus effectively enforce their rights’. Ireland has failed to produce statistics on the gender pay gap since 2014, when it had risen from 12.6% in 2006 to 13.9% in 2014. Female participation on boards of large companies stood at 22.4% in 2019, while the EU average was 27.8%. 

If one thing is clear from these figures and the mounting issues being encountered by working mothers during the pandemic, it is that immediate action and clarification is needed from the government in order to bridge these inequalities.



Featured photo by Tim Dennell




Covid-19 and the Heightened Risks in Human Trafficking

Covid-19 and the Heightened Risks in Human Trafficking

Covid-19 and the Heightened Risks in Human Trafficking
Micheal Martin, Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan walking at a distance together
Niamh Elliott-Sheridan
30th July 2020


Today, July 30th 2020, marks the United Nations’ World Day against Trafficking in Persons, established to raise awareness about the plight of victims and to promote and protect their rights. Experts have warned that the Covid-19 crisis has put human trafficking victims at risk of further exploitation. New analysis from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has indicated the coronavirus pandemic has impacted procedures for the protection of victims of trafficking at all stages of their ordeal. UNODC Executive Director Ghada Fathi Waly has highlighted that restricted movement, widespread travel restrictions which are “diverting law enforcement resources”, and the reduction of public and social services mean that victims of trafficking have even less chance of getting help or escaping their situation.


Resources previously dedicated to fighting crime have been diverted toward Covid-19 efforts, with the result that services assisting victims of trafficking, such as charities and shelters, are being reduced or entirely shut down due to the virus and the lack of personal protective equipment for staff and service users. With many countries closing their borders and enforcing quarantines and sometimes curfews in a bid to curb the virus, some victims are unable to return home. Others face delays in legal proceedings due to courts closing and difficulties in evidence collection. Halting the adjudication of cases delays justice for trafficking victims and prolongs suffering.


Even under normal circumstances, identifying and supporting victims of human trafficking is difficult due to the hidden and insidious nature of trafficking and the hold that fear has over victims. During a pandemic, this task becomes nearly impossible as countries divert their priorities elsewhere. Victims of trafficking are also at high risk of contracting the virus because they are less equipped to protect themselves from it and to access testing and treatment if they become sick. And for survivors who have escaped from trafficking, the pandemic is a particularly difficult time because isolation measures and even wearing masks can act as trauma triggers.


The marginalisation of vulnerable groups, from refugees and domestic abuse survivors to people who are homeless and suffering from addiction, means our societies and economies fail to protect those who need the most help at this time. And as school closures result in the loss of a vital source of shelter and meals, many children in poorer countries are being forced onto the streets in search of money and food, which increases their risk of exploitation and exposure to violence. Traffickers have adjusted their business models to the current climate and are preying on vulnerable people, including those who may have lost their income due to the public health crisis. It is feared that organised crime networks will continue to further profit from the pandemic, increasing  their current earnings of roughly $150 billion a year of which $99 billion comes from commercial sexual exploitation.



“Globally, it is estimated that 71% of enslaved people are young girls and women; 29% are men.”

As of 2016, on any given day there are 403,000 people in the United States living in modern slavery, with 50,000 people trafficked in the Americas annually; a staggering figure which helps to illustrate the scale of this problem. According to the Global Slavery Index, 25 million people are trapped in modern slavery in the Asia-Pacific region, with Thailand and Malaysia being known leading destinations for trafficking. In Ireland, an estimated 8000 people are living in modern slavery. The 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report stated 64 people were trafficked in Ireland in 2018 of whom 27 were women trafficked for sexual exploitation, 23 were men exploited in the fishing industries and 14 were in various other labour and forced criminal situations. Globally, it is estimated that 71% of enslaved people are young girls and women; 29% are men.


While Covid-19 is affecting all victims of trafficking, children are one group being particularly affected at this time. Sexual exploitation is one main form of trafficking in children and minors. The UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, Mama Fatima Singhateh, has stated that travel restrictions have facilitated new methods of exploitation and abuse of children. These include attempts to establish “delivery” services (where traffickers “deliver” children to buyers) and a spike in numbers of people trying to access child pornography online. As young people spend more time online, they are exposed to sexual predators. Ms Singhateh said, “producing and accessing child sexual abuse material and live-stream child sexual abuse online has now become an easy alternative to groom and lure children into sexual activities and to trade images in online communities”.


A spokesperson for the Royal Mounted Canadian Police has said: “chatter in dark web forums indicate that offenders see the pandemic as an opportunity to commit more offences against children”. The Victim Services of Durham Region reports that Canada’s Alberta Province has seen over a 50% increase in online child exploitation since March 2020. An ECPAT report says that increasing numbers of Syrian families are marrying off underage daughters to Turkish men for money to afford food for their other children. Turkey also has the highest number of child refugees in the world, making these children highly vulnerable to trafficking, forced marriage and further exploitation, according to ECPAT.


While the UNODC has recently increased its support for its global partners to help them combat trafficking, it is imperative for individual countries to keep NGO services, shelters and hotlines open . Access to these essential services is crucial at a time when trafficking is being driven further underground. Access to justice must be safeguarded and countries need to prioritise legal proceedings for trafficking victims. Meaningful collaboration between countries’ official powers and human rights organisations is necessary to ensure proper protection for victims. Covid-19 responses must be continuously monitored, with adjustments made to meet the needs of specific groups, e.g. children. International law enforcement and cooperation have to remain vigilant. There is a need for systematic data collection and analysis on the impact of Covid-19 on trafficking and on the human rights of victims. As Professor Siobhán Mullaly, Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights (ICHR) at NUI Galway, and the newly appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, has said: “It is critical now that effective protection measures are taken to vindicate the human rights of victims of trafficking, and that Governments and the international community take seriously their obligations to prevent human trafficking.”



Featured photo by UNODOC



Period Poverty is an Unknown Consequence of Coronavirus Shutdowns

Period Poverty is an Unknown Consequence of Coronavirus Shutdowns


Period Poverty is an Unknown Consequence of Coronavirus Shutdowns

shopping aisle of period products
Lone protester, against a line of riot police

27th July 2020


I get my period. People get their periods. Half of the world’s people will get a period at some time in their life. Yet, period poverty exists and is exacerbated by Covid-19. The virus has revealed the cracks in our system. One of these cracks is the lack of support and supplies for people who have periods.


‘Period poverty’ describes the inability to afford sanitary products. It can also relate to the lack of understanding and education surrounding periods. The term ‘toxic trio’ helped me to understand period poverty better. This is the trio of elements which create and exacerbate period poverty. Firstly, there is a lack of education about periods. Secondly, there is the cost of sanitary products. Thirdly, there is a taboo and stigma surrounding menstruation.


A lack of education about periods persists. Generally, the institutions which provide information on periods are educational institutions such as schools and health care services. With schools closed due to Covid-19 in many countries and health care services only dealing with critical cases, the flow of information provided to people who have periods has been disrupted. One might assume that this problem is resolved by the wealth of information available online. But I can tell you as someone from rural Ireland that internet access is a privilege and not one which everyone has. Internet access is estimated to be 53.6% worldwide by the end of 2019. Although this seems like an encouraging figure, there is a significant gender gap in internet access. In fact, the global internet gender gap is 17%. Women, girls and marginalized groups are much less likely to have access to the internet. This directly affects people’s ability to educate themselves about menstruation at a time when access to traditional education resources are out of reach.


This lack of education feeds into myths about links between menstruation and Covid-19. For instance, in Tanzania, rumours spread that menstruation is a symptom of Covid-19 and that people menstruating are more likely to transmit the disease. These rumours are without any scientific basis and feed into the stigmatization of people who have periods. The stigma and taboos about periods are directly linked to a lack of education or miseducation on the subject of periods. This societal misperception is also reinforced by how we see periods on television and in advertisements. For example, I have never seen red blood spilled onto a sanitary product in an advertisement. Instead, I see a blue liquid poured onto the pad. This signals to me that periods and blood are not something to talk about. They are something to whisper about. We need to question why society makes us feel that our natural body functions are not normal.


The cost of sanitary products prohibits many people from managing their period safely and hygienically. In Ireland, tampons can cost anywhere from €1.50 to €6 per pack, and sanitary towels range from €2 to €6 per pack. Although Ireland has no tax on these items, there is a tax on reusable menstrual cups, which are more environmentally friendly and cost €24 to €30, plus 23% VAT. There are also other associated costs with having a period. In Ireland, nearly 70% of young women needed pain relief medication for their period. These things add up and disproportionately affect people who cannot afford sanitary products. 12.8% of women and girls live in poverty worldwide.  In India, for example, approximately 355 million menstruating women cannot afford sanitary products and are vulnerable to period poverty. Poverty is also persistent in Ireland. 2,221 women were recorded as homeless by the State in May 2020. These women do not have free access in emergency accommodation to sanitary products. The same is true for asylum seekers in Direct Provision centres. The meagre weekly allowance in Direct Provision is €38.80 per week, making it difficult to manage periods. It is clear that the government should provide sanitation products in these instances. Without access to these products, the ability to have a period with dignity is threatened.


“With schools closed due to Covid-19 in many countries and health care services only dealing with critical cases, the flow of information provided to people who have periods has been disrupted”

Menstrual supplies are essential items. Without them, we are unable to manage our period with confidence and dignity. Unfortunately, Covid-19 disrupted supply chains and stock, meaning that there was a loss of access to sanitary products. The lack of awareness in government about this issue was highlighted when sanitary products were not initially listed as essential supplies in many countries. This reflects the general lack of female leadership as without women in decision-making positions issues such as sanitary supplies are an afterthought! National committees set up to deal with Covid-19 responses have been gender imbalanced. A report which surveyed 30 countries found that of the countries which established these committees, 74% had fewer than one-third female membership and only one committee was gender-equal.  Notably, countries with more women in leadership positions have had on average a more gender-sensitive response to Covid-19. Women are needed to create a more equal and holistic response to Covid-19 and ensure important issues like menstrual health are not forgotten about.


The lockdown of society, economic uncertainty and widespread job losses have put menstrual products out of reach for many. UN Women Reports have stated that people are resorting to newspaper, socks and toilet paper to soak up menstrual blood. Charities working on period poverty have also noted an increase in demand for sanitary products. One charity said that the number of sanitary packs it handed out has increased five-fold. A national charity in the UK stated that it usually distributed 5,000 packs a month but this increased to more than 23,000 in the three months after lockdown.


Covid-19 has brought period poverty to light. I hope that Covid-19 will not only reignite the conversation on the issue of period poverty but also prompt vital action. We have an opportunity to reimagine a world in which period poverty does not persist. In this world, the government will ensure access to education and digital technologies is affordable and accessible, and that information flows to those who need it most. Sanitary products should also be made available to those who are most vulnerable and need them as essential items. New Zealand has already begun to provide free period products for girls in certain schools and will roll this out nationwide within three years. Unfortunately, this endeavour has been disrupted by Covid-19 with school closures. This is a start but it should not be the end in providing sanitary products for people who menstruate. Those experiencing poverty, homeless and in direct provision should not have to pay for essential products. The state should provide these.


We need to end period poverty. Period.




Featured photo by Anique