“It’s simple: women and girls have human rights, and they have periods. One should not defeat the other.” – Hannah Neumeyer, (Head of human rights at WASH United).
Period poverty is a basic human rights issue and not a women rights issue. Half the population of the world are women, yet we see how inequality and access is still a major challenge for this gender.
It is all these small things together that violates a human being’s most basic need for survival. Period poverty is not about gender inequality, but it is about how a human being is denied the basic right to survival.
Period poverty is responsible for the deaths of almost 800,000 women around the world in a single year making it the fifth biggest killer of women.
Women menstruate every month, yet this normal biological process is met with silence because of taboos, stigmas, the unaffordability and mere lack of access to menstrual tools. Most women cannot manage their periods with dignity, due to all of these factors.
This in itself is a violation of basic human rights.
But What is Period Poverty?
Period poverty can be defined as a global issue affecting most women and girls. It refers to poor access to menstrual hygiene tools, washing facilities and waste management. The right to manage menstruation without shame or stigma is essential for anyone who menstruates.
According to a report published by UNICEF and WaterAid, more than one-third of the girls in South Asia miss school during their periods. This is primarily due to lack of access to sanitary pads, menstrual products and toilets in schools and no proper awareness and education about menstruation.
According to reports, most of the schools in South Asia lack toilet facilities and fail to meet the WHO standards of one toilet for every 25 girls.
Reports also suggest that 71% of girls in India are unaware and lack the proper knowledge of using menstrual products before their first period. Furthermore, due to taboos and superstitions in different countries even an open discussion in schools is impossible.
Moreover, the current outbreak of ‘Covid-19’ has globally increased the vulnerability around period poverty.
The Indian Ministry of Health reports suggest that only 12% of menstruators in India have exposure to proper period products. The rest of the 88% however, is largely dependent on unsafe materials.
Women end up using clothes, rags, or newspapers as their only alternatives. This further exposes them to infectious urogenital diseases such as urinary tract infection (UTI), bacterial vaginosis with skin irritation, vaginal itching, etc. This also negatively impacts the reproductive, mental, and sexual health of the menstruators.
What Needs to be Done
Due to the immense privatization of the health sectors in India, most of the needs of menstruators are not met.
Including menstrual products as part of everyday essential commodities is the need of the hour. The Government, policymakers and healthcare sectors all need to understand that bleeding every month is not a smooth-sailing experience.
The taxation on such basic commodities should be banned and menstrual products should be sold for a cheaper rate.
The accountability and responsibility of addressing the issue of period poverty need to be shared between the government and civil societies. Such a joint venture can essentially address menstrual inequality and poverty and pave the way for demolishing stigma and unavailability of resources.
The spread of awareness in online platforms through various menstrual hygiene campaigns have contributed to raising dialogue and participation but the reach still remains limited because of the differential access to technology.
Movies like ‘Pad Man’ and inspirational stories can only highlight such issues. But only the government, policymakers and healthcare sectors can resolve such an issue.
Period poverty is a human rights issue and not a women’s rights issue.