The problem at hand?
Access to hygiene products is not a luxury but a basic necessity. Female hygiene products range from shampoos and shaving equipment to sanitary napkins and tampons. Unlike shampoo and shaving equipment, women cannot cut back on menstrual products. These essential products are not exempt from state taxes and are expensive for consumers with limited budgets.
What is Period Poverty?
Period poverty refers to the lack of access to menstrual products, education, and hygiene facilities. It is a widespread yet highly neglected issue worldwide, especially in Pakistan.
In Pakistan, period poverty is not just a result of financial restrictions. A considerable part of the problem also takes root in the taboos surrounding menstruation; menstruating women are considered impure and dirty. Such social stigmas hinder women from accessing menstrual products and discussing their health and hygiene.
What is the scope of menstrual education in Pakistan?
According to U-Report, a flagship program of UNICEF, 49% of young girls in Pakistan barely have any knowledge of periods before their first cycle. Only 20% of them learn about menstruation in schools. To tackle the issue at hand, it is essential to understand that period poverty is not only a result of women’s financial restrictions but also socio-cultural norms that have made menstruation a taboo, a topic unfit for public discussion. It is socially unacceptable for young girls to access information about their menstrual and reproductive health. This lack of knowledge gives rise to and perpetuates many baseless myths.
What are the consequences of period poverty?
A US-based study revealed that an average woman spends around thirteen dollars per month on menstrual products. Women often lean towards unhealthy and non-sanitary practices like sharing rags and clothes, which results in urinary infections and other health conditions. The social stigma surrounding menstruation also causes young girls to develop low esteem, feelings of shame, and distress, limiting their day-to-day activities. Menstruating women are also subjected to social sanctions in certain cultures, such as being prohibited from touching certain foods. Since educational facilities lack menstrual supplies and have poor sanitation and hygienic facilities, girls on their period also avoid going to school, hindering their academic performance.
What can be done?
Communities must acknowledge that having access to menstrual products and information is not a privilege but a necessity. In a survey conducted on 2000 women, approximately half of the women faced period poverty, and 80 percent of them believed it was a genuine issue. Around 1200 claimed they had to budget to afford sanitary products. 70 percent of them demanded that government should supply free menstrual products. In November 2020, Scotland became the first country in the world to make sanitary products free of cost. Following their footsteps, period products should be available free of charge, especially in schools, colleges, and universities.
Several initiatives have also sprung up to facilitate women in combating period poverty. One of these was Girlythings, an application that delivers menstrual products to women with disabilities at their doorsteps. They also supply an “Urgent Kit” that includes instant stain remover, sanitary napkins, and undergarments.
Women’s fundamental right is to learn about something that dominates a significant part of their lives. Raising awareness about the use and importance of hygiene products, along with busting the myths and stigmas surrounding this very natural process, is necessary to end the taboo surrounding this issue. The Lokhandwala sisters started a women-led NGO, “Her Pakistan,” which conducts seminars and workshops in different institutes, especially in remote and underdeveloped areas. They aim to eradicate the misinformation and myths that surround menstruation.
Initiatives such as these are highly effective, but steps on a much larger scale must be taken to make period poverty obsolete. Women must be empowered regarding their health to create an equitable community and lead lives to their fullest potential.
Written by: Laiba Bilal – Marketing Intern
Edited by: Eman Toosy (Team Content Review Shalamar Literary Society, SMDC)