Sex is by choice, menstruation a must. Why then should condoms be cheap and sanitary towels expensive? OYEBOLA OWOLABI writes that activists are championing causes to ensure that girls get affordable Protective Appropriate Dressing (PAD) every month ost girls stay away from school and social activities during their monthly flow due to reasons beyond their control. A 2018 UNICEF report notes that “lack of access to functional and segregated toilets, limited information on menstrual hygiene management and limited availability of sanitary materials to manage menstruation make it more difficult for girls to manage their periods.
“Sanitary pads are expensive and often inaccessible. Some girls resort to managing their periods with pieces of rags or paper which are often unhygienic and uncomfortable. Others ask for permission to leave school premises and many stay at home during their periods.”
In 2017, Austina Okpo started the Gift-a-Pad Campaign in Nigeria to help young and poor girls. “I used the crowd-sourcing knowledge I had acquired from The Advanced Digital Changemaking Course I attended on WorldPulse and was able to generate funds enough to place a month supply of sanitary pads in the hands of 192 girls at a public high school in my community. But this is just a drop in the ocean, considering the number of girls who are yet to be reached,” she said.
Okpo uses her Gift-A-Pad Campaign to say every girl deserves Protective Appropriate Dressing (P.A.D) every month. She reiterates that while sex is a choice, menstruation is not, and if condoms are free, pads should be free too! She also wants the Nigerian government, and other third world countries, to pass laws that pads should be free for all girls of secondary school age.
Amaka Onyema, a lawyer, is also in the business of demystifying menstruation and ensuring that girls get affordable pads when the time comes. Through her ‘Embracing the Girl-Child’ non-profit, Onyema is paying forward the kindness she received as a secondary school girl by distributing pads to secondary school girls and educating them on proper menstrual hygiene.
Onyema said: “Menstruation is a natural process. However, in most parts of the world, it remains a taboo and is rarely talked about. Almost always, there are social, cultural and religious norms or unwritten rules and practices about managing menstruation and interacting with menstruating women.
“Sanitary towels should be put at very low cost, so low as to allow both the rich and the poor afford it. Girls in school should be able to focus on learning and not be distracted by the inability to afford period protection.”
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Period poverty is described as the inability of women and girls’ to access affordable, safe and hygienic sanitary products. They are unable to manage their periods with dignity, sometimes due to community stigma and sanction. It also affects women and girls who have limited access to these products, leading to prolonged use of the same tampons or pads, which can cause infection.
Due to this poverty period, girls miss one or more days of school. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, girls will miss as much as 20 per cent of their school year while some may drop out altogether. The loss of education means girls are more likely to be forced into child marriage. Their health is also at risk because they are forced to use dirty rags which can cause infection.
Ending period poverty
Campaigners and activists have argued that having a period is not a choice and, therefore, menstrual products should not be considered luxury items with high taxes imposed on them.
ActionAid trains women and girls to make safe, reusable sanitary pads so they always have access to clean and affordable sanitary products. It also provides information about periods, sex and pregnancy in its girls’ clubs so girls are better informed about their bodies.
Germany last year stopped taxing menstrual products as luxuries, marking them instead as necessities. In January, the Value Added Tax (VAT) on these products was reduced from 17 per cent to nine per cent.
In 2019, only 10 of 50 states in the United States considered menstrual products as necessities and exempted them from sales tax. In October, the number went up to 17. The European Union allows for a reduction of the VAT on menstrual products to a minimum of five per cent.
Some other countries have completely removed any sales taxes on menstrual products, such as Kenya, which did it as far back as 2004, as well as Australia, Canada and India. But in Hungary, VAT on menstrual products is as high as 27 per cent.
- To be continued next week