Most women can relate to the pain and struggle associated with that time of the month – cramps, heavy bleeding and unpredictable mood swings. It's estimated that 1.8 billion people worldwide menstruate, and let's be honest, it's an inconvenience we all wish we could avoid.
Recently, women's issues have been at the forefront of social policies and law making, sparking a wave of movements and new thoughts.
Admittedly, we are nowhere close to where we were, yet somehow nowhere near to where we need to be, which to some seems like no process at all. Strong supporters of women's rights hold the view that women won't be fully heard until more is done to address our menstrual cycle.
Monthly, women worldwide face several challenges on account of their cycle, which frequently disturb our plans and, for some women, render us immobile. It affects us physically and mentally, but there is a financial aspect of the menstrual cycle that is seldom discussed.
A survey conducted by Intimina, a Swedish brand that offers a range of products dedicated exclusively to all aspects of women's intimate health, found that the average woman spent US$13.25 a month on menstrual products, which for an average woman's reproductive lifetime works out to be on average $6,360. This might sound like a reasonable bill to foot. Still, women who find themselves unable to afford basic necessities also face the challenge of period poverty.
Period poverty is a lack of access to menstrual products, education, hygiene facilities, waste management, or combination. It affects an estimated 500 million people worldwide and restricts women from participating in their daily lives.
A 2021 report from Unicef and the World Health Organisation revealed that many women in developing countries are still struggling to safely manage their periods, lacking access to menstrual products, water and a private place to wash and change.
This is the case in many developing countries worldwide that lack basic amenities. But even in first world countries like the US and right here in our backyard, women are unable to manage their menstrual cycle in a dignified and healthy way. Reuters Health reported that in 2021 almost two-thirds of low-income women living in the US could not afford menstrual products. With nearly half sometimes having to choose between buying food or menstrual products. Local non-profit organisations like Feminitt and governmental agencies have shed light on period poverty in TT. Though no empirical data exists, it is clear that many girls and women experience period poverty.
Period poverty has been a social concern for many years. Still, Unicef's study is among the first to provide empirical data across a number of countries. But unfortunately, these studies fail to provide a global estimate of the number of women who experience period poverty.
The study found that period poverty had far reaching consequences that restricted a woman's mobility, personal choices, and access to her life. In addition, it affects attendance and participation in school and community life and causes additional stress and anxiety in an already challenging time in a woman's life.
This raises a concern about taxes imposed on feminine items and whether these products should be provided for girls under the age of maturity and women in difficult circumstances.
Tax on feminine products, or "tampon tax," as it is commonly called, is a sales tax on feminine hygiene products.
In most parts of the world, fem-products are classified as luxury items and have been a thorn in women's side for many years. Campaigners believed that the abolition of the period tax would allow more women to access these products. Instead, governments classify these items as luxury goods.
In Hungary, there is a 27 per cent VAT on period products and in Sweden 25 per cent. Experts worry that extreme poverty won't be alleviated if people who experience their menstrual cycle worldwide continue to lack access to sanitary products.
How can we address period poverty without first addressing tampon tax?
In 2004, Kenya became one of the first countries to eliminate tampon tax and other countries like Canada and the UK followed suit.
In the Caribbean, Jamaica does not tax fem-products and, through many initiatives, provides for those who face period poverty.
But is removing taxes enough?
Since 2011, the Kenyan government has been budgeting around US$3 million per year to distribute free sanitary pads to schools in low-income communities. And in 2020, the British government started an initiative to make period products more accessible, including putting free sanitary products in schools, colleges, and hospitals. Remarkably, in November 2020, the government of Scotland made sanitary products free to all women, becoming the first nation in the world to take such dramatic steps to address period poverty. Many campaigners believe this should be the approach of most governments as it is a basic need for women and girls everywhere.
Each of us can do our part to end period poverty. Fem-products can be contributed to church groups, schools, and non-governmental organisations. It's often a sensitive topic to broach, so when offering assistance to those in need, remember to consider feminine products. It's time to kick period poverty to the curb. Let's all help where we can.