The Government’s Role in Resolving Period Parity

Menstruators around the world, especially those from rural backgrounds, are not in a position to take care of their menstrual health and hygiene with the adequate means. This includes a lack of awareness about the utilisation of period products and the biology of menstruation. Globally, 500 million menstruators face these difficulties. In India alone, under 50% of the women utilise sanitary pads. It is crucial to address the stigma around menstruation, get involved in policy making and raise awareness to improve these statistics. Still, without an appropriate level of government intervention, there may not be a visible improvement in the life of menstruators.

Due to the innumerable problems faced by menstruators, several schemes have emerged on a national and international level. The movements which improved access to period products were extremely striking. Both in developed and developing countries, the aims were similar – to provide these products at subsidised rates or free of charge. Directed toward adolescent girls, fund reallocation was planned. These movements were led both in the UK as well as in India. Currently, in the UK, the PHS group is responsible for supplying sanitary products and in India the same is done by ASHA. The end goal for both these schemes is to abolish stigma, provide menstrual products and most of all make menstruators self-sufficient.

The scheme implemented by the Indian government was primarily directed towards adolescent menstruators in rural areas, providing them with products, and training them on how to make them. Unfortunately, a study conducted by the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in 2018, revealed that the scheme was inefficient with the distribution of napkin packs. It also failed to address how it would educate rural women, a crucial step considering that this could be an entirely new product for many menstruators in that area. 

The UK’s program was more focused on adequate provision of menstrual products in academic institutions, to ensure that students have access to menstrual products, free of charge. Implementation of the scheme was highly encouraged by the government for all schools and colleges.

The US too implemented a scheme to promote the provision of menstrual products in women’s prisons in Arizona. It planned to increase the current number of tampons allotted to each inmate, from 12 to an adequate number. A menstruator approximately uses five pads a day, six times a week, needing 30 pads per cycle; 12 doesn’t meet the requirement. Due to the restricted access to sanitary products, they relied on unsanitary solutions, which increased their risk of contracting vaginal infections. State representative, Athena Salman, took the motion forward and enlisted numerous women’s rights advocates to testify before an all-male congressional committee. The bill was later shot down due to “logistical issues” in the prisons. It was supposed to introduce a free flow of sanitary products in women’s prisons but instead just increased the number of pads to 30 per person.  A more diverse congressional committee could have worked in the representative’s favour. Such candidates would have been sensitive to the concerns. Though the scheme did not achieve its intended aim, its partial dismissal was able to encourage thousands of Americans to advocate for women’s rights in prison.

From a more widespread approach, Menstrual Health and Hygiene (MHH) programmes have been developed and incorporated into multiple organisations and institutions in many countries.  Such programmes prepare young menstruators for overcoming obstacles throughout their lives, whether it’s a health issue, child marriage or gender-based violence. MHH is a crucial component in fulfilling menstruators’ rights, a key target of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. UNICEF makes the value of collaborative action clear in making gradual progress in the plan by communicating that schools assign high priority to MHM actions during their virtual conferences. This scheme focuses on adequate resource allocation in schools, prioritising relevant policies and developing their guidelines in the best interest of menstruators across the globe. It also seeks to advance MHM in school activities, create an adequate budget, assign responsibility to the government to implement the scheme in more schools, and integrate MHM into the schooling system to ensure inclusivity. Progress has been made regarding these five objectives, and MHM is now a widely recognised public health matter.

The various schemes discussed in the article have accelerated the journey to equal and sufficient sanitation for all menstruators in need. Each one was different, ranging from the scale; national to worldwide to the audience; prisoners to rural menstruators. India is still a country with inadequate menstrual facilities, so programmes targeting problems such as provision and training on making sanitary products can be beneficial. Conversely, policies centred around education and improving current laws dealing with MHM can be seen more often in developed countries. Such policies will only work if the government is responsive to the concerns of menstruators. 

Our collective responsibility is to ensure that we continue moving closer to that goal. A central way to make progress is by introducing more such schemes and laws targeted specifically towards the individual problems of a menstruating community, to better their standards of living. Voting for parties and individuals with similar policies in our own country and keeping track of all schemes introduced related to MHM globally allows us to support this progress.

Article by Prathna Anand, Tara Karni Bajaj, and others from the REDefine Team

Featured Artwork by Saanve Jatia

White, Kaila. “After Backlash, Arizona Prison Raises Minimum Number of Free Pads for Incarcerated Women.” The Arizona Republic, The Republic | Azcentral.com, 15 Feb. 2018, https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona/2018/02/13/after-backlash-arizona-prison-raises-minimum-number-free-pads-incarcerated-women/335698002/. 

Held, Amy. “Arizona Department of Corrections Changes Sanitary Pad Policy Following Backlash.” NPR, NPR, 16 Feb. 2018, https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/15/586134335/arizona-department-of-corrections-changes-sanitary-pad-policy-following-backlash. 

government of India. “Menstrual Hygiene Scheme(MHS) :: National HealthMission.”

Nhm.gov.in, 2022, nhm.gov.in/index1.php?lang=1&level=3&sublinkid=1021&lid=391.

Jurga, Ina. Ina Jurga International Coordinator Menstrual Hygiene Day POLICY LANDSCAPE for MENSTRUAL HYGIENE & HEALTH.

2019.Patkar, Archana. “Policy and Practice Pathways to Addressing Menstrual Stigma and Discrimination.” The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstruation Studies, 2020, pp. 485–509, 10.1007/978-981-15-0614-7_38. Accessed 11 Oct. 2021.

From Period Poverty to Period Parity

Period poverty refers to the lack of access to essential menstrual products, hygiene facilities, waste management and/or education. It is concerned with the social, economic, political and cultural barriers to safe menstruation, education and sanitation. Although it affects over 27% of the menstruating population, adding up to 500 million people worldwide,  the lack of awareness and research around this issue is alarming. 

Period poverty is a threefold problem of the lack of education, acceptance, and access, increasingly worsening in many parts of the world, including India. This is a result of the global gender inequality that manifests itself in the form of high prices of sanitary products, lack of awareness about their usage, normalisation of stigmas around menstruation and the perpetuation of cultural ignorance as it is a “women’s problem.” 

One of the most significant causes of period poverty is the ubiquity of taboos and myths surrounding menstruation and its “impurity” that are passed through generations. The shame around periods prevents people from having open dialogues regarding access to menstrual products, the chemical substances they comprise of, and their health implications. According to a 2014 report conducted by Dasra on menstrual health and hygiene in India, 70% of mothers consider menstruation to be “dirty,” eternising a culture of shame and ignorance. Although period poverty is a global health crisis, this outlook on it results in large concerns remaining unaddressed.  Additionally, the report also discovered that 71% of girls in India had no knowledge of menstruation before their first period. This unpreparedness leads to shock, fear and anxiety, often resulting in school dropouts. 

The inequality is further compounded with the disavowal of transgender people as menstruators. Many people still consider periods a women-only experience. Not only does this completely disregard other menstruators such as non-binary or trans people, but it also implies that all women menstruate. Many people who are not women menstruate, and not all women do. A number of infertile women or women suffering from certain medical conditions are unable to menstruate. This discussion about period poverty needs to be handled gently and with a correct, inclusive outlook. This includes our language. Otherwise, it creates additional challenges for non-women menstruators. Given that inclusiveness is not yet widely practised, many studies, including the ones referred to in this article, solely focus on women who menstruate. This can create gaps in the representation of the menstruating population. 

Poor hygiene standards further aggravate the problem. For large groups of people, especially in rural areas, menstrual hygiene is almost non-existent. The scarcity of water and lack of toilets — let alone menstrual products — demonstrates how distressing the current situation is. According to official data from the Unified District Information System for Education, of the 10.83 lakh government schools in India, over 15,000 have no toilets. The study also concluded that 63 million adolescent girls lived in homes without toilet facilities, magnifying the struggle for many young menstruators. 
The consequent effect of period poverty is extensive and universal. The first implication is on physical health and hygiene. Lack of access to menstrual products forces menstruators to resort to unhygienic alternatives that put individuals at a higher risk of various urogenital infections. Some people have no choice but to use menstrual products for longer than intended to save money. Leaving a tampon in for too long can increase a person’s risk of toxic shock syndrome, a rare but dangerous infection. “Sanitary Protection: Every Woman’s Health Right, “ a study by AC Nielsen revealed that only 12% of India’s 355 million women use sanitary napkins. Around 70% of women in India say their family can’t afford to buy them of which 88% resort to harmful alternatives like un-sanitized cloth, ashes and husk sand. Incidents of Reproductive Tract Infection are 70% more common among these women. 

The implications on mental health and well-being cannot be overlooked either. Being unable to manage your period with the appropriate products can lead to feelings of distress, discomfort and anxiety. A study conducted by BMC Women’s Health in January 2021 found a link between period poverty and mental health. Among the women who reported experiencing period poverty every month, 68.1% reported symptoms of moderate to severe depression, compared to the 43.4% of women who had never experienced poverty. Although this study had several limitations, it did present a relationship between the two variables. A comparison between countries is harder to draw since higher rates of depression are also linked with high-income inequality. Therefore, it can be difficult to conclude whether period poverty directly causes depression.

Finally, education and careers are both disrupted by this issue. Focusing on schoolwork can be extremely difficult if one is uncomfortable, distracted or unable to actively participate due to menstrual leakage or odour. This can have long term consequences by impacting attendance, self-esteem, skill development, grades and future earning potential. It has been estimated that 1 out of 5 girls drop out of school after they start menstruating. Similar effects are seen in the workforce where people are unable to participate to their full potential and consequently face significant economic implications. According to the Dasra study, 31% of women in India miss an average of 2.2 days of work per month when they menstruate. Especially for daily wage workers, this can create a dent in their financial stability, trapping them in a cycle where they once again cannot afford menstrual products. 

Period poverty must be dealt with immediately. The first step is to increase education and share knowledge. Normalising menstruation and destroying taboos around this natural process within our organisations, communities, and schools is crucial. Initiating a conversation is crucial as it accelerates further research about menstruation that can help us learn how to address it better.  National advocacy is an essential course of action. Menstruators need the support of the government, private firms and charitable programs to provide adequate infrastructure and access to affordable menstrual products. Finally, governments need to establish protective legislation that can ensure national access to proper facilities and hygiene products. Many governments, including India’s, have made a major breakthrough by removing the tax off of menstrual products, making them more affordable.

Period poverty is a global crisis that does not have an overnight solution. The objective is to reach a state of menstrual equity. A position where we can ensure people have the means, support, and choices to decide how they want to take care of their menstrual health. Where healthcare providers, educators and individuals ensure that menstrual health is a priority. Where sanitary products are affordable, accessible and safe. 

Article by Parnika Gupta and Sia Aggarwal from the REDefine Team

Featured Artwork by Saanve Jatia

“What Is Period Poverty?” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/period-poverty

Roy, Shriya. “What Is Period Poverty?” Feminism In India, 27 July 2021, https://feminisminindia.com/2021/07/28/what-is-period-poverty/.  

Almeida, Desirée Viteri, and Follow meDesirée Viteri AlmeidaPh.D.(c) Law & Political Science [Criminal Law & Criminal Sciences: Violence Against Women. “Period Poverty and Stigmatization.” The Organization for World Peace, 7 Sept. 2021, https://theowp.org/reports/period-poverty-and-stigmatization/

“Period Poverty: Everything You Need to Know.” Global Citizen, https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/period-poverty-everything-you-need-to-know/

“How Period Poverty Finally Became a Political Scandal.” Politics.co.uk, 19 Dec. 2017, https://www.politics.co.uk/blog/2017/12/19/how-period-poverty-finally-became-a-political-scandal/.

“Spot On – Improving Menstrual Management in India.” Dasra, https://www.dasra.org/resource/improving-menstrual-health-and-hygiene

Cardoso, Lauren F., et al. “Period Poverty and Mental Health Implications among College-Aged Women in the United States – BMC Women’s Health.” BioMed Central, BioMed Central, 6 Jan. 2021, https://bmcwomenshealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12905-020-01149-5

A Tax on Tampons is a Tax on Menstruators

Menstruation is not a choice. Proper hygiene is every menstruator’s right. Across the world, 1.8 billion menstruate monthly. Yet millions of these girls, women, transgender men, and non-binary people face a lack of basic menstrual services, stemming from both poverty and the stigma around menstruation.

Although ensuring that everyone has access to menstrual products should be a matter of public health, many people are forced to resort to unsafe and unhygienic methods of managing their periods. Periods are one of the primary reasons why girls drop out of school in India. Many others are forced to stay at home solely because they do not have the means to handle menstruation hygienically. Some women have no choice but to use cloth or rags which, if not clean, can increase the risk of infections. It is every menstruator’s inherent right to have access to clean and safe products. Therefore, it is unreasonable to tax them on such goods. 

The tampon tax is an indirect tax imposed on menstrual products. This is often regarded as a sexist tax since other necessities and health items like prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs are tax exempt. In fact, there are places around the world where admissions to rodeos and college athletic events are untaxed, while tampons are not. It is argued to rightfully declare menstrual products as an essential commodity, abolish the tax on them, and introduce a price ceiling to ensure that they are accessible to low-income households. However, not all minds are on the same page about this notion.

For several countries, exempting menstrual products from being taxed results in reduced public revenue collection. Hungary and Sweden impose the maximum tax — at 27% and 25% respectively — on sanitary products, making them expensive for most consumers. In many US states cutting the tampon tax is estimated to eliminate anywhere from 10-60 million dollars in revenue per year. Eliminating this tax would result in having to increase tax rates on other products to balance out that loss. In retrospect, however, states like Alabama and Texas allow you to buy a Snickers bar tax-free from a vending machine but deem menstrual products as unessential. 

India, on the other hand, is one of the few countries that, as of 2018, has scrapped its tampon tax. India has a population of more than 355 million menstruating people, 88% of whom use unsafe sanitary products to manage their periods due to a lack of awareness and financial instability. The 12% tax had made products even more inaccessible in a country where most menstruators already do not have access to items like sanitary pads. Before 2018, under the GST, sanitary pads were not considered a tax-free essential item, making them unaffordable to over 70% of menstruators. After a year of campaigning and lobbying against the levy, India altered its tax system to classify menstrual products as “essential” and made them entirely tax-free. Other countries like Kenya, Canada, Australia, and Nigeria have done the same.

Making sanitary products more accessible goes beyond tax cuts. Scotland recently became the first country in the world to ensure that tampons and pads are free for all those who need them. Nepal began distributing free menstrual products in schools across the country in 2017. This was part of their attempt to reduce school absenteeism caused by the inability to manage periods. 

Making menstrual products affordable is a part of the fight for gender equality as it pushes people to recognise menstruation as a biological process that does not need to be stigmatised and should not hinder someone’s education, career, or future. 

Globally, more women than men live in poverty as a result of sexism across society limiting them in employment opportunities, caregiving support, education, etc. The gender wage gap, the gender wealth gap, occupation segregation into low paying jobs, domestic violence, and inadequate public support all factor into this. There is an unfair financial burden on women who get paid less than men in comparable positions. Women and girls already struggle to access the resources to manage their periods and the tampon tax further hardens this challenge. It forces menstruators to either resort to less safe and less hygienic means of managing their menstruation or forces them to live at a constant financial disadvantage. In Kenya, for example, a study conducted by FSG concluded that relatively poorer girls and women may turn to prostitution to afford pads.

Providing affordable menstrual hygiene products is a step in the right direction, but not enough to end period poverty. In order to truly achieve this aim, there has to be a widespread advocation of education, increased availability of adequate water and sanitation facilities, and addressal of harmful gender norms. It is all our responsibilities to make our voices heard and ensure that lawmakers acknowledge menstrual products as essential items. This will bring us one step closer to bridging the gap between the opportunities received by the different genders.

Organisations all around the world are consistently fighting to make products more affordable. The organisation Period Equity launched the Tax-Free Period campaign to urge US states to eliminate the tampon tax as soon as possible. Companies like Aakar Innovations and the Muruganantham Jayshree Industries have devised ways to reduce the production costs of these products and extend these products to Self Help Groups (SHGs). These groups enable menstruators to purchase their own pad making machine, establish a warrant, and continue to produce affordable pads.

A tax imposed on menstrual products is not just a tax on a product. It is essentially a tax on people solely because of their biological need to menstruate.

Article by Parnika Gupta from the REDefine Team

Featured Artwork by Prathna Anand

“Home.” Tax-Free. Period., https://www.taxfreeperiod.com/home

“The Tampon Tax: Everything You Need to Know.” Global Citizen, https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/tampon-tax-explained-definition-facts-statistics/.

Catarina de Albuquerque, Magdalena Sepúlveda. “Women’s Equality Starts With Ending the Tampon Tax.” The Daily Beast, The Daily Beast Company, 29 May 2021, https://www.thedailybeast.com/womens-equality-starts-with-ending-the-tampon-tax#:~:text= 

“Op-Ed: Taxing Tampons Isn’t Just Unfair, It’s Unconstitutional.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 11 July 2019, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-chemerinsky-weiss-wolf-tampons-tax-20190711-story.html.

“India Scraps Tampon Tax after Campaign.” BBC News, BBC, 21 July 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-44912742.

Russon, Mary-Ann. “Activists Cheer as ‘Sexist’ Tampon Tax Is Scrapped.” BBC News, BBC, 1 Jan. 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/business-55502252.

Morales, Christina. “U.K. Eliminates Tax on Tampons and Other Sanitary Products.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Jan. 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/01/world/europe/tampon-tax-uk.html.

https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/tampon-tax-explained-definition-facts-statistics/

Menstrualhygieneday.org. 2022. FSG-Menstrual-Health-Landscape_Kenya. [online] Available at: <https://menstrualhygieneday.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/FSG-Menstrual-Health-Landscape_Kenya.pdf&gt; [Accessed 10 January 2022].  

Our Session at Ashray

Our first pan-India venture and our second online talk.

An individual-group photo.

With the blessings of an online platform and stable connectivity, our session with the children from Ashray stretched over two days. We were met with an initially hesitant crowd who grew more comfortable as our session progressed: we started with icebreakers, but they didn’t quite break the ice as well as our next segment of discussing personal stories. We altered our usual talk as per the request of the organisation, and focused more on the physical changes of puberty rather than the science, and more on menstrual hygiene than sexual hygiene. We added three new segments to our talk as well; the first, on how to measure bra sizes and the different types of bras; the second on personal hygiene; and the third on attraction.

We started with our typical walk-through of puberty following our short story-sharing session. We saw the students grow more comfortable as they related to the experiences we were describing, which luckily made getting into more tricky and embarrassing topics less awkward. We had challenges in accurately describing the reproductive organs and their roles to the students. Luckily, Ms Vrinda Jatia, the founder of Ashray, made these topics easier for the children to understand as she was familiar with them and well-versed with their learning style.

Explaining fertilisation was also a challenge, one we managed with the founder’s help. Subsequent explanations of the menstrual cycle helped the children put the role of sex into perspective, and also the role of hormones. Though we managed to condense the role of hormones to make it easier to understand, we do understand that there will be some barriers that cannot be overcome in a two-day online session. The children eased into the conversation once again when we began talking about PMS and its symptoms, a phenomenon that can unite menstruators across all backgrounds. 

We had our new segment on bras next, where we demonstrated what and where to measure for a bra size, make the correct calculations, and determine the right size to buy. We discussed the different types of bras one may find comfortable, as well. We had to repeat the segment as it was a new concept to the children, and with the help of the founder, we could explain it thoroughly. Here is an area we will look at for improvement: our skills in communicating demonstrative knowledge over theoretical knowledge, and sequent consolidation.

We went over how to wear a pad and what different menstrual products are available, something we did in our talk for Dribble Academy as well. We were concerned over how this would work online, but the students were already familiar with pads and menstrual hygiene, reciting to us what we were going to explain to them in the next part of the talk. 

We expanded our conversation regarding personal hygiene into taking care of skin and hair as well as taking care of oneself during menstruation. The children had many questions regarding what products to use, and we further discussed the need to use different products depending on how someone’s skin or hair is. The fact that the children found it so easy to accept that they should buy products based on their needs also drove in the point that everyone’s bodies are different and grow differently, hence may need to be treated differently, as well. 

In the end, we talked about attraction. This was also new to us, as it was outside the realm of menstrual and sexual health and hygiene. We did feel awkward at first, to talk about our own experiences with romance and attraction, however, the children seemed comfortable enough with us that we were able to extend the same comfort to ourselves. We spoke about these topics in a familiar manner with them. Having that connection over shared experiences, despite living in different cities and being on opposite ends of the spectrum of privilege is what makes the entire talk worth the extra hours. Seeing them understand, seeing them learn, feeling like we’ve made a difference — that is what drives REDefine. Ashray was our first pan-India venture, an opportunity which arose due to the pandemic. As this session was a success, we look forward to having more communication with wider audiences.

For more information on Ashray: https://ashray-ngo.org

Until next time,

Samara from the REDefine Team.

Separating Your Societal Ideals from Your Personal Beliefs

As the puberty series comes to an end, we hope that we’ve been able to provide some comfort to you and your child during this confusing phase. Before concluding, there is one more topic that needs to be addressed. As your child begins their journey through puberty, they will be bombarded with a colossal amount of information from various external sources. We believe it is important for them to know how to ignore erroneous information. 

First and foremost, let’s discuss the definition of societal ideals and personal beliefs. Societal ideals are the expectations that society and/or our communities enforce on us. On the other hand, our personal beliefs include, but are not limited to, our morals and cultural practices. The purpose of this article is to help you integrate the idea that personal beliefs take precedence over the norms of society into your talk.

Our society influences the way people think about menstruation and puberty. In India, people who menstruate are compelled to be ashamed of their cycle and all which is associated with it. We scarcely find people talking about this topic in public, and during the rare occasion that it is discussed, it is riddled with taboos and stigma. Menstruation is still used, by our society, as an opportunity to isolate those who menstruate. For instance, in India, 23,000,000 people leave school when they start their period. This can be due to the lack of access to sanitary products, or discouragement from family members. Which, in turn, prevents them from completing their education, hence hindering their ability to get good jobs in the future. Although this is more evident in rural India, it certainly isn’t absent in urban areas. Most shops still pack sanitary pads in black bags so that they can remain “hidden.” Similarly, most of us have experienced the embarrassment of taking a pad out in class. The reason that this is included in the series is to prevent your child from incorporating inaccurate information. Help them understand that menstruating isn’t a limitation and they shouldn’t give into information that says otherwise. 

However, it isn’t just society that dictates our outlook on puberty and menstruation. Adolescents are exposed to a variety of other sources of information. The most obvious and arguably the most influential is social media. Although I agree that social media is a great platform to spread awareness, it is also a breeding ground for false information. Social media encourages the creation of unrealistic standards. I remember watching a video where a person discussed how productive and positive they are during their period. It made me feel guilty for sometimes being tired, moody, and unproductive on my period. I couldn’t watch that person’s videos without feeling this way and it made me feel even more guilty because I knew that my ambivalence and lethargy is completely normal. Moreover, adolescents tend to get a vast amount of information from magazines like Cosmopolitan. Although these magazines are great for entertainment, they shouldn’t be your child’s primary source of information. It is because these magazines often publish articles like “How to keep your Boyfriends Happy in a Relationship,” which may encourage harmful ideas about relationships and sex.

To prevent your child from internalising misleading ideas, it is vital to prepare them to filter information. In a day and age like today, it is impossible (and impractical) to completely isolate your child from the internet. A more practical approach is for you to encourage your child to speak to you during a period of crisis (which I assure you will happen often enough), or inform them of more accurate sources like Healthline or books like Just for Girls/ Just for Boys if they are younger. 

Before we end the series, I would like to remind you that every child is different. Each one will handle these complicated situations the best way they know how to. Give them time to adjust to these changes and their new perspective on life.

We hope you enjoy reading the articles as much as we loved writing them!

Signing off,

Tihara from the REDefine Team

Featured artwork by Sanvee Jatia