- Scotland is the first country in the world to make sanitary products free
- New Zealand has earmarked $17.96 million for providing sanitary products
- France aims to install 1,500 free hygienic protection dispensers in schools
New Delhi: In the early days of Novel Coronavirus in India, when the citizens were worried about contracting the virus and coping with the lockdown, 18-year-old Laxmi from Jaskandih village in East Singhbhum district of Jamshedpur was concerned about access to sanitary pads. Laxmi says that while the supply of groceries was being taken care of by her teachers, sanitary napkins were ignored by all. “In our village, we don’t have many shops to buy essentials. Also, because of the lockdown, I couldn’t go outside”, recalls Laxmi. It is only after Laxmi raised the issue with her school teacher who further reached out to a local NGO that Laxmi and her friends could get sanitary napkins.
Similar was the situation in Delhi where girls studying in government schools are dependent on their schools for a monthly supply of sanitary pads. Dr Surbhi Singh, Gynaecologist and Founder of ‘Sachhi Saheli’, a Delhi-based NGO that works towards raising awareness about menstruation, said,
Period poverty is well established in India. During the lockdown, I received multiple calls from students raising the issue of lack of access to sanitary napkins due to multiple reasons like restrictions on movement, financial constraint, stigma attached to it because of which girls are hesitant about asking their fathers to buy them pads.
Period poverty is the lack of access to safe, hygienic sanitary products, and/or girls and women unable to manage their periods with dignity, sometimes due to community stigma and sanction. According to the experts, period poverty often results in girls missing school and in some cases even dropping out of school. In some cases, women and girls have limited access to sanitary products, leading to prolonged use of the same tampons or pads, which can cause infection.
Countries across the world are recognising the facts that periods are a part of life, and sanitary products are a need rather than a want. Here is how some of the countries are working towards eliminating period poverty.
France Offers Free Period Products To Students
On February 23, Frédérique Vidal, France’s Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, noted that menstrual insecurity is a collective issue and a real question of dignity, solidarity and health. Ms Vidal announced that in the coming weeks, student residences and university health services will be equipped with dispensers of free and environmentally friendly hygienic protection including tampons and sanitary towels.
Sharing the news on Twitter, Alexandre Holroyd, Member of the French for Northern Europe, wrote, “Menstrual insecurity affects nearly 1 in 3 students in France. Parliament has allocated 5M € in the 2021 budget to fight against this scourge. At the start of the 2021 school year, 1,500 free hygienic protection dispensers will be installed.”
La précarité menstruelle touche près d'1 étudiante sur 3 en France.
????Le Parlement a alloué 5M€ au budget 2021 pr lutter contre ce fléau
✅A la rentrée 2021, 1500 distributeurs gratuits de protections hygiéniques seront installéshttps://t.co/sA3dRWZTfD@stelladupont @Romeiro1L
— Alexandre Holroyd (@alexIholroyd) February 23, 2021
New Zealand To Provide Free Sanitary Pads And Tampons In Schools
In an attempt to end period poverty and boost school attendance, New Zealand government on February 18 announced that it will provide free period products in all primary, intermediate and secondary schools and kura (state schools) in the country. The decision is based on a; pilot project carried out in 2020 in 15 schools and kura in the Waikato region covering 3,200 young people who were provided with free period products.
#FreePeriodProducts will soon be available to students in all NZ primary, intermediate and secondary schools and kura opting to receive them, Prime Minister @jacindaardern and Associate Education Minister @jantinetti announced today at Fairfield College. https://t.co/8EF1JrnBdo pic.twitter.com/NUVrNkZlQm
— Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga (@EducationGovtNZ) February 18, 2021
Speaking at Fairfield College in Hamilton, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said,
Young people should not miss out on their education because of something that is a normal part of life for half the population. Feedback from students during the pilot was that period products should be available for all who need them, when they need them.
PM Ardern asserted that research had shown one in 12 young people were missing school due to this issue and added,
We want to see improved engagement, learning and behaviour, fewer young people missing school because of their period, and reduced financial hardship amongst families of participating students, said PM Ardern as reported by the news agency Reuters.
As per the information available on the website of the Ministry of Education, New Zealand, all state and state-integrated primary, intermediate and secondary schools and kura that opt-in for free period products by March 31 will receive products from the end of June. Schools can continue to opt-in and will be added in a later phase of the national roll-out of the programme. The programme will cost the government NZ$25 million ($17.96 million) through to 2024, reported Reuters.
The first phase or pilot has been extended till June, 2021 to ensure there is no lapse in the availability of products for these students. Following this, the initiative will be rolled-out nationally and pads and tampons will be provided in educational institutes.
These products are easy to use and appropriate for a broad range of students’ age, developmental, and cultural needs in a schooling context. As the initiative develops, we will consider how we can support the use of alternative products, including menstrual cups and eco-friendly sanitary underwear. We will also look at options for more sustainable waste management and explore how we can strengthen wider education on periods for learners and the adults around them, reads an official statement.
Scotland, The First Country To Make Period Products Free
In November 2020, Scotland became the first country in the world to pass The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill by a vote of 121. The Bill became an act on January 12, 2021 makes it legally mandatory for all public institutions to make period products (like sanitary pads and tampons) available for free to people who need them.
The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill has been passed unanimously by MSPs this evening.
— Scottish Parliament (@ScotParl) November 24, 2020
The Scottish government has been working towards making sanitary products affordable and accessible for few years now. The Scottish Government carried out a six-month trial from September, 2017 to February, 2018 offering free products to women on low incomes in Aberdeen. Following an evaluation of the Aberdeen pilot scheme, the Scottish Government on May 30, 2018, announced that it would extend the pilot scheme across the country. Over the years, the initiative was expanded to schools, colleges and universities and on April 23, 2019, Monica Lenon, Member of the Scottish Parliament, introduced The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill. The Bill sets out the key requirements for a universal period products scheme that will allow anyone to request and access period products, free of charge, throughout Scotland, regardless of age, gender, income and other criteria. The Bill which is now an Act also requires education providers to make period products available free of charge in on-site toilets.
What Steps India Can Take To Eliminate Period Poverty
The three countries have just made announcement and the world will have to wait to assess the impact of their initiatives, but health experts are lauding the moves. Dr Surbhi Singh, Gynaecologist and Founder of ‘Sachhi Saheli’ believes that similar initiatives can help a country like India that is not only the second populous country in the world but where menstruation is shrouded in stigma. While talking to NDTV, Dr Singh said,
India already has some schemes that offer sanitary napkins either for free or at a subsidised rate. We have to initiate the conversation around periods as currently, girls are not comfortable in talking about it even with their peers let alone go to a doctor. While we do so, it is important to ensure that we disseminate the correct information. Sachhi Saheli has worked in tribal areas of Dadar and Nagar Haveli and there we got to know that even Anganwadi workers and Auxiliary Nursing Midwifery (ANM) don’t have full knowledge.
Dr Surbhi added that the government should provide sanitary napkins for free to increase usage among girls and women. She also said,
People should have a thought process that when I can buy a packet of Bindi for Rs. 20 then why can’t I spend a similar amount on a pack of sanitary napkins? It is only through education we can make people realise that sanitary products are their need.
Additionally, software professional Geeta Bora, who left her well-paying job in the US and came back to India to create awareness about menstruation, said that there are many aspects of period poverty in India. Geeta who had released a guide on menstrual hygiene and runs Spherule Foundation, a Pune based non-governmental organisation (NGO) said,
Our experience from the ground tells us that some people will not use a sanitary pad or tampon or menstrual cup even if you provide them for free because of the myths associated with these products. The first and foremost step towards eradicating period poverty is education. Then we have to make good quality sanitary napkins affordable. Currently, affordable sanitary napkins have more plastic which is again hazardous.
Ranjana Prasad, Member of Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) also called for increased awareness among people. Further talking about making sanitary napkins free, Dr Surbhi said,
In 2018, the government had removed 12 per cent GST (Goods and Services Tax) on sanitary napkins but that didn’t really bring down the cost. But yes, people started talking about it; we are seeing more manufacturers and competition in the market which is bringing down the cost. If the government can provide a subsidy on other products then why not on sanitary products? After all, it is a need.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.