This article first appeared in the 2021 edition of the Humanities Insider Magazine. It is written by Grade 9 student Reina Kawabata.
In Nepal, at particular times of a month, women are forced into menstruation huts. This takes away their right to be in their homes. Despite the abolishment of this practice by law in 2017, it remains an issue in Nepalese society today. Feminine products are difficult to get hold of in Nepal and are outside the financial reach of many women. We need to address period poverty and social stigma to make feminine hygiene products free globally. Scotland has achieved this, so how could the rest of us help to make this possible elsewhere?
Period poverty related to the inability to access feminine products because women lack the financial means to do so. Over 500 million women and girls around the world experience period poverty every month. Period poverty is not only an issue in less developed countries with high rates of poverty and gender inequality, but is also an issue in developed countries such as the UK and the US for those living on very low incomes. The stigma that surrounds menstruation can mean that women may not speak out about their inability to access feminine products. In fact many governments treat these necessities as luxury goods and impose heavy taxes upon them, the most being Hungary at 27%. This over inflates the price of pads and tampons to such an extent that they are unaffordable to many women.
In November 2020 Scotland became the first country to ever offer its feminine products free of charge. The Scottish parliament passed the “Period Products Bill” which makes provision of period products free to anyone who needs them. Schools, for example, can now offer feminine products free of charge in their bathrooms. It is estimated that the implementation of the legislation will cost approximately $31 million. The goal of this bill was to abolish period poverty. As the bill was passed fairly recently, the impacted on women is yet to be clearly established. Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon stated that “Periods should never be a barrier to education or push anyone into poverty, women and girls deserve period dignity”.
It may not be possible to make all feminine products free around the world immediately, as social stigma cannot quickly be addressed and the expense of this action can be high. In rural areas around the world, strong social stigmas actively exist on menstruation, making it hard for the governments themselves to make changes. Some extreme cases include places such as rural Ghana, in which menstruating women are prohibited to enter the house if a man is present. Eliminating stigmas like this would most likely be necessary to ensure a critical mass are behind the goal of making feminine products free of charge. A first step for many countries could be to discard the tax that is imposed upon feminine products.
Women experience menstruation for approximately 35 years of their life and have to spend $10 per month or more on feminine products. Men do not need to have this monthly expense. It is not a choice for women and young girls to have their periods and therefore should have the right to use feminine products free of charge.