A woman’s body is inherently designed to go through a certain period of time each month. Although many traditions and cultures considered menstruation as a taboo subject in the past, this recurring inconvenience that was forcibly swept under the carpet is how we became who we are today in the first place. Nonetheless, the perception towards menstruation remains unchanged. Many still refrain from mentioning the term openly and try to hide it, as if it’s something forbidden and shameful.
The misunderstanding of the menstruation is prevalent in our society; some people still think that menstrual products are selected for the extravagance and could be economized. A value added tax applied to the menstrual products reflects that misogynistic error. It means that the products are considered as luxurious goods, when they are actually vital necessities for half of the population; girls and women.
The gap between women’s inevitable need for sanitary products and the goods’ high expense eventually provokes what is called as ‘period poverty.’ Period poverty is a form of a hardship experienced by all those who cannot afford their sanitary items during menstruation. The problem is that the difficulty to afford hygiene goods often ends up creating another setback in women’s life by prohibiting their educational and professional developments when they menstruate. This implies that women who suffer from period poverty can be exposed to a higher chance of losing their opportunities every month, due to their biological and unavoidable function.
While some may think only poor countries suffer from gaining access to sanitary goods, it is in fact reality of numerous women in any country. According to a study commissioned by a menstrual cup company INTIMINA, it turned out that women spend an average of about $6,360 (approximately 7.1 million Korean won) on menstrual products in one’s lifetime. In 2018, another study from UNICEF presented in an article written by Reuters indicated that a third of girls in South Asia missed school during menstruation due to the lack of access to menstrual products. What’s more is the result of a study which estimated that the number of girls who had missed their school due to periods exceeded 137,000 in the UK, violating girls’ rights to education.
Nowadays, a number of organizations and countries around the globe are carrying out campaigns to fight against period poverty. The first significant development was accomplished by Scotland as they enforced an action at a national level. First introduced by a Scottish politician Monica Lennon, the bill that aims free provision of period products was anonymously passed on 24th of November 2020. Although Scotland was already providing free menstrual products at schools since 2018, period didn’t stop during COVID-19 outbreak and school shutdowns worsened the hardship. With the new bill, the Scottish government is obligated to offer complimentary menstrual products not only to girls but to ‘anyone who needs them, with an ease of access and dignity.’ Lennon’s objective for the bill could be found in an interview in an article written by the Daily Record where she stated “It really shouldn’t be a big deal. When you go into the toilet, you expect toilet paper to be there and you should be able to expect period products as well.” She also emphasized on the importance of menstrual education, which would tackle misinformation and negative impressions on period to eradicate period poverty in the long term.
In South Korea, period poverty issue once famously rose to the surface with the story of a young girl who was forced by poverty to use a shoe sole as a substitute of costly sanitary pads. Although Korea already abolished the value added tax on period products in 2004, the price per one pad is still being ranked as the highest among other OECD countries. Raising concerns of high period poverty rate and women’s well-being, the Korean government is promoting solutions to protect women’s rights to health.
Since 2018, Korea began distributing complimentary period products to teenage girls from low-income families. This way of provision was advanced into electronic vouchers in the next year. Reasons for the modification in the supplying process were not only to ease distribution but also a considerate adjustment made for more girls since they can use them to exchange for sanitary products they prefer instead of unilaterally receiving any menstrual goods. From the age of 11 to 18, they are eligible to apply for the voucher that assists 11,000 won a month under the law that protects adolescent’s rights to health. In 2019, Gangnam-gu Office supplied total 157 sanitary pad dispensers to all elementary, middle, and high school restrooms in the region. Moreover, Yeoju city is also aiding sanitary goods to all resident teenage girls from 11 to 18. This is the county’s first welfare system in which all girls are monetarily supported for menstruation, regardless of their economic situation.
Professor Susan Holland, a lecturer of a class International Women’s Studies here at Sungshin University, shared her insightful opinions on this issue. She says that “Education and basic human dignity should be given to all, not only those that can afford it. There should be no shame in discussing periods, and ending the silence on this subject is supporting women's rights.” For people who wish to lend their hand to help terminate period poverty, she advises “as an individual, you have the power to make your voice heard. Make sure your government knows that period poverty is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. Sign a petition, join a hashtag movement, set up a website, join or start a protest and vote in every election. The more women vote, the more politicians will listen.” She also encourages more women to get involved with politics. Professor Holland added “if there were gender equality in all levels of government, would period poverty even be an issue?”
Unlike a negative stigma on menstruation, it is a celebration rather than a shame that women undergo this period, as it is a beginning of the circle of life. It is in fact what enables human body to be capable of bringing up future generations to the world. Thus, more countries and people must engage in raising awareness on this subject and create legal shelter for safe menstruation environment in order to achieve society’s development as a whole.
By Cho Yoonji Reporter (firstname.lastname@example.org)