What you need to know about period poverty6 min readReading Time: 5 minutes
In a great move towards gender equity, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, announced that schools in her country will now give out free sanitary products to combat period poverty.
There are a few phrases and words in that last sentence that need some attention. So, here’s Owliver to clear the mist:
What is equity?
Equity is the quality of being fair and just. Its difference from equality is illustrated in the figure, below, where the left hand side shows an instance of equality, and where the right hand side displays equity.
Sourced from Mental Floss
Equality does not ensure equal access. Therefore, equity and equality need to go hand in hand.
What are sanitary products?
Menstruation is a natural monthly occurrence for women that begins close to the end of puberty. Every month, the wall of the uterus gets ready to host a fetus. When the fetus is not formed, this lining is discharged out of the women’s body.
Learn more about this phenomenon that ensures the continuity of human life in this video:
Women need safe sanitary products to hold the flow and ensure hygiene around the 2-7 days of periods. These products include sanitary napkins, tampons, menstrual cups etc.
What is period poverty?
Period poverty is the lack of physical and emotional support towards menstruation. It includes lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, basic hygiene facilities like hand washing, or waste management.
What are the reasons for period poverty?
In many cultures around the world, periods are considered taboo. Women are taught menstrual etiquette that entails never talking about it or revealing its presence.
- Financial constraints:
Sanitary products are expensive to begin with. For the underprivileged, this means choosing between napkin and basic needs. Until recently, there was a 12% tax levied on sanitary napkins in India!
- Inadequate infrastructure:
Many women do not have access to washrooms or toilets with clean water to maintain their hygiene during this period. The lack of conversation around the subject also adds to this inadequacy. In India, around 63 million adolescent girls do no have access to toilets. (Source: FSG)
- Lack of awareness:
The stigma around periods restricts healthy conversations around the subject. Thus, many women do not know how to take care of their bodies and hygiene during this period.
What makes Ardern’s move special?
Ardern’s move for a nationwide movement for period support attempts to curb the damage caused by the reasons mentioned above. After a successful pilot program that provided free sanitary products to 3,200 young people in 15 schools in New Zealand, Ardern has decided to invest $17.96 millions towards this cause. Research showed that 1 in 12 young people in New Zealand were missing school due to this issue. Through this move, Ardern visualises a stigma free society where menstrual health is prioritised
Period Poverty in India:
Let’s start with some facts:
- A report by the Indian Ministry of Health, collated in 2019, stated that only 12% of menstruators in India have access to sanitary products (Source Global Citizen)
- Earlier, a report collated by National Family Health Survey 2015-2016 estimated that of the 336 million menstruating women in India about 121 million (roughly 36 percent) women are using sanitary napkins, locally or commercially produced. (Source: BBC)
- In a report curated by Dasra, a society working in adolescent healthcare, it was found that nearly 23 million girls dropped out of school annually after they start their periods. ((Source: BBC)
- 71% of girls know nothing about menstrual health until after their first period (Source: Borgen Project)
The facts reveal that period poverty is rampant among the 355 million menstruating women in India. In such situations, political decisions like the one brought forth by Ardern promise a way forward.
Period Warriors in India:
There are multiple organisations in India working to create awareness about menstrual health.
Menstruating women in India create 120 kilograms of non-biodegradable waste each in a lifetime. Boondh offers sustainable alternatives to this issue through menstrual cups, and by raising awareness about menstrual health.
Binti works in 11 countries providing free menstrual products in underresourced spaces. It works on menstrual equality through education, distribution of sanitary products and government advocacy. Binti also partnered with the oldest Gurudwara in UK to distribute free sanitary products.
Project Baala has been working on instilling a sense of confidence in women through menstrual education and the availability of free products. So far, 1,25,000 girls across the globe have benefitted from their programs. During the pandemic, Baala continued its work by providing 17,640 free pads to 5,880 beneficiaries across 11 locations.
The Documentary, Period. End of Sentence:
Rayka Zehtabchi partnered with Action Aid to create a documentary to talk about period poverty in India. Action Aid is an organisation working to create gender equality in India. The documentary, hosted on Netflix, was successful in raising funds to install a vending machine of menstrual products in Hapur, India.
The film was also awarded an Oscar for Best Documentary Short Film.
Period education is not just reserved for women who experience this phenomenon biologically. The social stigmas attached to it can be done away with only when it is shared and discussed across genders, ages, religions, and income structures. How can we hesitate to talk about that which has sustained human life on the planet all these years! Learn more in the video, below: