A Global Issue-
Around the world, girls and women are lacking basic necessities that many people argue should be a human right--period products. At the 2019 Oscars the award for Best Short Documentary was given to ‘Period. End of Sentence’, a twenty-five minute film on the struggles women face in Kathikhera, India dealing with their menstrual health and the stigma around it. In under developed locations globally, women feel ashamed while on their period due to a lack of hygiene care paired with lack of education on what they are experiencing every month. According to the documentary, in many cultures the period symbolizes an age at which girls are old enough to rape or marry. In the movie, it is also explained that during their period, women are not allowed to enter places of worship or touch the religious books in order to not contaminate them. With these unclear rules and taboos around the subject, it is inevitable for girls to be embarrassed about their monthly cycle.
It is well known that clean water is not universally accessible in cities and villages around the globe, and water plays a key role in so many aspects of life. When schools do not have water or bathrooms separated between girls and boys, girls are less able-- as well as less encouraged-- to attend schooling. In countries where educating young women is not valued as highly, it is extremely important for the these schools to have a space where girls can take care of their hygiene with privacy-- change their pads, and wash their hands. Global health security correspondent Anne Gulland analyzed the “first ever global assessment of water and sanitation in schools” in The Telegraph article titled “Lack of toilets and water at school puts girls' education at risk.” The studies found “that in 2016 355 million girls went to schools where they were unable to wash their hands after changing sanitary pads.” Furthermore, due to a lack of privacy, sinks, and soap-- one in three female students in South Asia are unable to attend school during that time of the month.
Initiatives like Thirst Project, which our club works with, has a goal of bringing sustainable clean water wells to these small villages and specifically putting them next to schools. This is because in many cases, women and young girls walk from three to twelve miles each day to gather unclean water, and the journey is often dangerous with threats of sexual predators and dangerous animals. When girls are not given an opportunity to an education, it hurts the economies and growth of wherever this is happening. With clean water at the schools, the girls are able to attend and then bring filtered water home after school. Water, food, health, education, and equality are all connected pillars-- each one depending on the other. By getting to the root of these pillars by implementing sustainable solutions, it will intern balance the others out.
In Uganda, there is a charity that was created due to the girls dropping out of school because these products were too expensive and inaccessible. The organization purchases affordable materials in their local community, and teaches women, boys, and girls, how my make these pads. This sustainable solution to Uganda’s lack of access not only helps these girls continue to attend school, but also shows that their community is having an open conversation around this topic while getting the boys involved too, and normalizing the topic for them at a young age.
In our communities-
Stigma and Education:
As young girls and women, we often feel like our menstrual cycles are something to be ashamed of. I feel fortunate to have grown up in a time when our society is beginning to feel less and less male dominated from school boards to workplaces. Women empowerment is something many American citizens are working towards. While the conversation around gender equality has shifted in the last decade, there is still a large body of men in power deciding our health rights and taxes.
When we’re in the fourth grade, the girls and boys are separated to talk about puberty and the girls learn about periods and the boys are not made aware of them unless they learn about them outside of school. Even the education girls receive on what the hell is happening that time of the month is limited and vague, and I mostly just remember feeling awkward about the whole thing. By starting an open conversation about periods with girls and boys while they are young and impressionable, we can eliminate the shame and the stigma around this naturally occurring bodily function. It’s time we stop hiding our pads and tampons in our sleeves on the way to the bathroom, whispering to ask someone if they have a tampon, and be proud of our bodies.
*Chime in from the founder:
Over the summer, I helped my school club and non-profit organization This Club Saves Lives put together backpacks full of school supplies for homeless youth in our community. One item that had been donated were little bags intended for holding pencils and pens, and they reminded me of the pouch my mother gave me in the fifth grade to discreetly keep my menstrual pads. This got me thinking about two things: I wondered why we as girls have always been taught to keep our period products hidden away in our shirt sleeves or in cute bags. I also had the realization that these homeless students in our area may be lacking access to tampons and pads, because they are an expensive necessity.
Lack of access for the homeless:
For homeless women, life is filled with so many struggles between sleeping in dangerous conditions, not feeling clean, and adding to that the lack of access of tampons and pads makes it even harder for them to get on their feet and feel confident in themselves. Tampons and pads are the most needed yet least donated items to homeless shelters, because when we think of items to be donated for a toiletry drive, period products rarely come to mind. We always think about toothbrushes, soap, or deodorant, but we never remember tampons and pads. This comes from the stigma in our society, because if people are not talking about menstrual products, how should they be expected to remember that they are something that is a necessity for women everywhere?
When homeless women cannot obtain period supplies, they resort to having to make the choice between food or tampons. Many homeless will chose food and resort to using socks, rags, paper towels; and on top of that many of them do not have access to showers or places to wash their clothes. Not only does this lead to infections, this lack of cleanliness is completely stripping theses women of their dignity, making this a human rights issue.
The tampon tax:
The luxury tax, also known as the pink tax, on tampons and pads makes it even more expensive to buy these necessary products every month. $19 million of California state taxes come from tampons and pads being taxed as luxury items. Some items exempt from this luxury tax include Viagra and condoms, which just goes to show who is making our laws and creating our taxes. Women are rallying to get this 5% tax removed. President Barack Obama expressed support for women spearheading the conversation regarding this tax. “I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items,” he said. “I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.” For low-income families, tampons and pads can be an unaffordable monthly expense and they are not even able to use food stamps to make that purchase. Donations are a great short term solution but rallying for government action is equally important.