By Nicoletta Pavese
As a woman, there are specific topics that catch my attention. One of the latest is the issue related to the concept of ‘menstrual equity’, especially because it’s a topic usually linked to the feminist world.
However, menstrual equity is a social justice issue and a human rights issue, and it should not be confined to the feminist world only.
Let’s start from the basics. The term refers to the need for equal access for women to hygiene products and education about reproductive health. The concept has been brought into the public debate by advocates and activists, who strive for the recognition of women’s right to manage their periods with dignity.
Read more: Period. End Of Sentence: Winning Documentary Sheds Light On Period Taboos In India
The two main consequences that arise from a bad management of such a natural part of the population’s life, or the total absence of it, are financial and educational.
Feminine hygiene products are not freely available and are subject to the so called Tampon Tax, the revenue earned from the VAT applied to the sale of sanitary products. Considering the average price in Europe, imagine spending around 70 EUR per year… for about 40 years.
But why are these products subject to a value-added tax? Why aren’t they considered a necessity for women to live their lives as normally as possible? This is an important question if we think about the fact that most products considered necessities are usually excluded from this tax or at least have a cheaper tax applied, as is the case of postage stamps for instance.
Due to the high cost of feminine hygiene products, several associations, such as the American #HappyPeriods intervened, donating tampons, pads, wipes and soap, packing and delivering them to women that are low-income, homeless, or are living under the poverty line.
Moreover, recent laws in several US States mandate access to these products in shelters, schools, and correctional facilities, and in 2015, this tax was abolished in New York, Florida, and Connecticut.
The second consequence of poor access to menstrual equity is not only biological and economical, as it affects educational access as well: studies showed that one of the most common reasons why girls miss school in developing countries is periods.
In Kenya, girls miss around 4 days of school each month because of the lack of access to adequate hygienic facilities. In Nepal and Afghanistan, 30% of the girls miss school during their periods.
Only the 12% of girls worldwide have access to appropriate menstrual supplies: in East Africa, many girls use unsanitary materials, for instance leaves, newspapers, and cow dung to stay clean during their periods. A study from 2013, “A Systematic Review of the Health and Social Effects of Menstrual Hygiene Management”, conducted by Colin Sumpter and Belen Torondel, showed that more than 80% of girls in India use cotton menstrual pads, which are washed without soap and in unclean water. Undoubtedly this is one of the reasons there is an incidence of 70% of the female population who develops reproductive diseases, and even fatal conditions, such as Toxic Shock Syndrome.
The importance of women’s empowerment has become a core topic during these past years, especially in terms of education and economic empowerment, and therefore it is crucial to improve access to menstrual health and education, to help women around the globe to stop feeling the cultural stigma associated to this natural body function.
The organization HerTurn is focused on girls’ rights and they run workshops to discuss health issues, sanitation, menstrual hygiene, as well as safety issues, such as child marriage, sexual abuse and other forms of gender-based violence. And the results are promising: in 2013 only 13% of girls surveyed knew the legal age for marriage, after the course the percentage increased to 92%. Similarly, the knowledge about menstrual hygiene increased from 54% to 98%.
Considering the high number of organizations, petitions and workshops that exist, it might seem strange that this issue is still an urgent matter in 2018 and our world leaders still allow that so many girls go without this so needed education. It’s not a coincidence that nearly all of the world leaders are male, of course.
But what our leaders perhaps still don’t understand is that menstruation is not just a women’s issue, it’s a public health issue that affects over half the population, and that one of the first measures that could be taken to ameliorate the financial burden it causes would be to change the tax policy.
All images: @herturnnepal
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