For most of us, tampons and pads are as accessible as a bar of soap or toilet paper. What we accept as part of our ordinary routines, is a privilege for many women around the world - they struggle with maintaining their menstrual cycles and hygiene in ways that we cannot imagine. They try to cope with period poverty.

Period poverty is being unable to afford menstrual products such as pads, tampons, etc. Further, it is also a lack of access to clean water, toilets, menstrual hygiene education, and adequate waste management.

WHY IS IT A PROBLEM?

A lack of resources to properly deal with periods, and the cultural shame and stigma attached to menses stops many girls and women from going to school and work every day. This exclusion from everyday life stems from the perception that to experience menstruation is something embarrassing, and dirty. Girls miss out on school and education for fear of leaking, teasing, the lack of access to period products, and bathrooms with clean water. Low access to menstrual hygiene also increases the risk of menstrual health disorders.

Access to menstrual products and other resources that protect menstrual health is a basic human right. It is the right of every person who menstruates; to be able to deal with their menstrual cycles with dignity. Period poverty leads to a lack of educational and work opportunities for women, and only serves to reinforce gender inequality.

PERIOD POVERTY & POSITIVE ACTION AROUND THE WORLD

SCOTLAND - 2020

In November 2020, Scotland became the first country in the world where it is the legal duty of local authorities to provide free period products to women. Proposed in April 2019, the bill, Period Products (free provision), was finally accepted after almost two years of campaigning. Because of this law, period products are now available for free to anyone who needs them.

UNITED KINGDOM - 2021

Also, in January 2021, the UK government launched a scheme where girls under the age of 19 will have access to free period products at their educational institutes. However, so far, 60% of primary schools and 24% of secondary schools have yet to sign up for this scheme. But a silver lining is that the UK government has eliminated the tampon tax on menstrual hygiene products.

IRELAND - 2021

Following these changes by its neighbours, Ireland also proposed the bill, Act To Secure The Provision Of Free Period Products, in January. Recently, another initiative to tackle period poverty is undertaken by Ireland's major retailer, Lidl. Customers can register on the Lidl Plus app and apply for tokens to get menstrual products for free. This initiative makes Lidl the first major retailer in the world to take measures to combat period poverty. Since 19th April, more than 20,000 customers have registered to access period products for free.

NEW ZEALAND & AUSTRALIA - 2021

From June 2021 till June 2024, New Zealand will provide free menstrual products to schools. And in Australia, a few states such a New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia decided to offer period products freely in public schools. Australia also ended 'tampon tax' in 2018!

Have you heard of 'tampon tax'?. The added sales tax to this essential product makes it even more unaffordable, with women having to choose between monthly utilities and essentials and hygiene products.

USA - 2021

In the US, only a handful of states have passed a law that mandates the distribution of free period products in public schools. These states include California, Illinois, New York, New Hampshire, and Georgia. In addition to these measly statistics, only 13 out of 50 states have removed the tampon tax.

JAPAN - 2021

Menstruation is a taboo subject in Japan. Issues surrounding menstruation are largely ignored because of two major religious groups that shun blood for being unclean. In October 2019, there was a 10% rise in the sales tax on goods, including sanitary products. As a result, this sparked a petition that aims to eradicate the tampon tax and provide free menstrual products in universities. Finally, in March 2021, Japan decided to set funds aside to support women who cannot afford menstrual products.

OTHERS

A few other countries that have abolished the tampon tax are Kenya (the first country in the world to do so), Rwanda, Colombia, Canada, Mauritius, South Africa, and India.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Removing tampon tax and education about menstrual hygiene products are just the tip of the iceberg. A big obstacle women face is the myths and taboos surrounding menstruating women.

Many cultures and communities across the globe isolate menstruating women from the public. Girls may not be allowed to handle food, kitchen utensils, or even books. They may also have to stay at home from school, places of worship and be isolated from family and community members. In this way,  period poverty also affects mental health. It increases the risk of anxiety and depressive disorders, further impairing the quality of life of a woman.

No woman should have to economise between essential items, or wear the same pad for hours to save money. Period poverty threatens the satisfaction of fundamental human rights. It should not be a privilege to have access to menstrual products; but a right of every woman across the globe.

Strides (even if they are at a snail's pace) are underway in the correct direction, such as easing access to period products, raising awareness about hygiene, and educating women about menstrual health. Yet, the speed at which we're moving is not fast enough. Many more countries need to discuss menstrual health and period poverty openly. And that is the first step - to move towards discussions regarding women's health.

Let's punch through the stigma around menstrual dialogue to ensure that every woman menstruates with dignity.

Join Scarlet's campaign to help end period stigma for Menstrual Hygiene Day! Make an Origami Paper Bracelet and share with pride and the hashtags #StandWithScarlet #MHD2021 and #ItsTimeForAction

Scarlet is an official partner of Menstrual Hygiene Day, celebrated on 28 May each year.

REFERENCES

  • 1)  Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill – Bills (proposed laws) – Scottish Parliament | Scottish Parliament Website
  • 2)  Period product scheme for schools and colleges in England - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
  • 3)  Period poverty: Less than half of schools in England use free period products scheme |
    The Big Issue
  • 4)  Period poverty: US lags behind New Zealand on free menstrual products (usatoday.com)
  • 5)  Free Provision of Period Products Bill 2021 – No. 4 of 2021 – Houses of the Oireachtas
  • 6)  Over 20,000 register to access free period products from Lidl (irishtimes.com)
  • 7)  Access to free period products – Education in New Zealand
  • 8)  This Australian State Will Experiment With Free Pads and Tampons in All Public Schools (globalcitizen.org)
  • 9)  Tampon Tax Finally Axed in Australia (globalcitizen.org)
  • 10) NSW to trial free tampons and sanitary pads in public schools (smh.com.au)
  • 11)  India scraps tampon tax after campaign - BBC News
  • 12)  Canadian Menstruators | #NoTaxOnTampons
  • 13)  Taxes, development and human rights: reflections from Colombia | O'Neill Institute (georgetown.edu)
  • 14)  How Kenya Became A World Leader In Menstrual Pad Distribution : Goats and Soda : NPR
  • 15)  Menstrual Products Have Been Declared Tax Free in South Africa (globalcitizen.org)
  • 16)  FOCUS: Efforts underway to end "period poverty" in Japan, despite hurdles
    (kyodonews.net)
  • 17)  Cardoso, L.F., Scolese, A.M., Hamidaddin, A. et al. Period poverty and mental health implications among college-aged women in the United States. BMC Women's Health 21, 14 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12905-020-01149-5