When it comes to period, the real stain to be ashamed of is period poverty. The inability to afford any menstrual hygiene product – is what is called period poverty! And despite efforts by private companies and institutions, NGOs and a few government bodies, it still affects a sizable portion of rural India. Due to the severe lack of sanitary products, the majority of menstruators in India are forced to use hazardous and ungroomed methods of menstruation hygiene, such as newspaper, ash and filthy clothes.
Think of a situation where you have to choose to get a meal for yourself or to choose a sanitary product; many of us don’t experience it, but people from rural areas face this frequently; the decision becomes worse when they have to choose the former one and instead use any harmful clothing, homemade alternatives such as rags, or sock causing reproductive tract infections during their periods due to their inability to afford. On an informed decision policy process, this indicates how and what government approach is towards women’s issues, as a result of not having included period products in the list of the essential items during the lockdown, many migrant workers, rural women who had to move to their villages after the first wave had no access to either toilets or sanitary products.
Where are the gaps?
- Over 1.2 billion women worldwide do not have access to basic sanitation, making their periods a monumental challenge every month.
- In India, approximately 12% of its 355 million menstruating women cannot afford period products. In Kenya, an alarming 50% of school-age girls have no access to sanitary towels or tampons.
- Two-thirds of the 16.9 million low-income women in the US could not afford menstrual products in the past year, with half of this needing to choose between menstrual products and food.
- Just 12% of women in India have access to sanitary products. Because of this deficiency, women may be forced to use other items like newspapers, toilet paper, socks, and even plastic bags.
- 1.25 billion females worldwide don’t have access to a safe and private toilet, and 526 million females worldwide don’t have access to a toilet.
What are the reasons?
While women are leading positions in developing countries on a global level, some traditional/conventional barriers stop them from reaching that potential. A report by UNESCO estimated that one in 10 girls in Africa miss school when they have their periods. One of the major reasons that girls drop out of their schools is the fear of getting teased, embarrassed due to lack of education. While this is one prevalent issue, others are deprived of or incorrectly use products leaving them confused and with low self-esteem.
What’s more shocking is the lack of any proper, righteous affirmative action by the government to provide sanitary napkins/menstrual products for free and without tax so that menstruators never need to feel the need to use socks filled with newspaper again. The debatable question is do we need tax-free products or free menstrual products? An average pack of 10 sanitary napkins currently costs 100 rupees; when 12% GST was removed, the price turned out to be 88 rupees. This could be a woman’s monthly outlay for menstrual hygiene needs. However, given that 75% of India’s population relies on manual labour, living in rural regions, and earning less than 33 rupees per day, including their food expenses, the price of 88 rupees for a packet of sanitary napkins still remains expensive for them.
Scotland became the first country to pass the Period Products (Free Provision) aiming to provide free period products. New Zealand and France are providing free products in schools to students, thereby encouraging students to not skip school days during their menstrual cycle.
It’s 2022; about time all menstruators have access to one of the most basic living necessities! Yes, it’s a long shot to achieve a world wherein no one has to ever suffer from period poverty or its stigma, but we must try to make menstrual hygiene more gender-neutral and treat it like a basic human right. Make a small contribution towards this cause and help menstruators in your immediate social circle with sanitary products. If each of us can support at least 2-3 menstruators and young women, it’s a massive step towards ending period poverty. Are you socially conscious enough to do so?