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Friday, April 16, 2021

Period Poverty: Scotland created history, it’s time India learns from them, here’s how

Scotland has become the first country in the world to provide free and universal access to period products. This is a big lesson for India to learn.

So Scotland ended the period poverty, and thus created an example for the entire world. Certainly for India. For those who are wondering what are we talking about, here it is…

So, what has Scotland done?

Scotland has become the first country in the world to provide free and universal access to period products. This came after a four-year campaign that has fundamentally shifted the public discourse around menstruation.

The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act, which passed unanimously through its final stage on Tuesday evening, will place a legal duty on local authorities to make period products available for all those who need them, building on the work of councils like North Ayrshire, which has been providing free tampons and sanitary towels in its public buildings since 2018. The campaign – bolstered by nationwide grassroots support – was spearheaded by Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman, Monica Lennon, who told the Guardian this was “a proud day for Scotland”.

Period Poverty: Scotland created history, it’s time India learns from them, here’s how

1. Can India follow Scotland’s suit?

Discrimination against menstruating women is widespread in India, where periods have long been a taboo and considered impure. They are often excluded from social and religious events, denied entry into temples and shrines and even kept out of kitchens. Given the lack of conversation about periods, according to one study, 71% of adolescent girls in India are unaware of menstruation until they get it themselves. Campaigners say it shows that parents rarely prepare their daughters for something they know is bound to happen. And this unpreparedness leads to so much avoidable fear and anxiety.

2. What is the present scenario of period poverty in India?

The difficulty of accessing sanitary pads is another major issue. India scrapped a 12% tax on sanitary products in 2018 after months of campaigning by activists. Campaigners had argued that menstrual hygiene products were not a luxury and periods were not a choice that a woman could simply opt out of.

However, tax exemption is only a small step towards a much longer journey of making menstrual health and hygiene an accessible reality for every woman in the country. According to one study, only 36% of India’s 355 million menstruating females use sanitary napkins, while the rest use old rags, husk, ash, leaves, mud and soil and such other life-threatening materials to manage their flow. And menstrual health experts say the current coronavirus crisis has worsened matters further in India. The country is under a strict lockdown which has severely impacted production and supplies of menstrual hygiene products.

3. India mulls, buy food or sanitary napkin? Period poverty at worst!

From an early age, girls learn to live with the pain and fear and seldom do we see a girl seek help when in physical or mental discomfort due to periods. But with a surge in the use of social media in recent years, women have begun sharing their stories about menstruation too. Yet this freedom is often questioned and those sharing their stories are threatened with bans, while trolls who indulge in moral policing and shaming women go scot-free. Millions of families across India cannot afford to buy menstrual hygiene products. Women from poor socio-economic backgrounds want a pad, but feels guilty to even ask her family for the money to buy it. For them, it’s a toss-up between spending on food for the family or purchasing sanitary napkins.

India period poverty scotland
Image credit: Unsplash

Several NGOs and health and human rights organizations have been demanding free distribution of pads to all women and girls living below the poverty line in India.

4. School drop out and public mockery for period

Nearly 23 million girls drop out of school annually after they start their periods, according to a 2014 study by Dasra, a charity that works on issues of adolescent health. Campaigners say the main reasons are a lack of clean toilets in schools and poor access to sanitary products.

There’s also fear of staining and girls worry about being mocked by their classmates. The study also found that a large number of women considered periods as dirty, explaining why menstruating women are often ostracised from social and cultural activities and are forced to put up with all sorts of restrictions.

5. Can India really end period poverty like Scotland? Experts say yes

Experts feel that India needs to widen the scope of coverage and governmental support in the form of a bill can help address the issue and end period poverty in India. Priyanka Nagpal Jain, founder of Hygiene and You Reusable Period Products, told Indian Express that if such a law made is made, it should mostly focus on reusable period products. She spoke of menstruation cups and cloth pads. The expert added that a couple of factors need to be looked into.

For example: period products should be free for only those who cannot afford them. Also, we have to consider that people don’t value free products, so stakeholders must not compromise with quality. Besides, affordable/nominal cost reusable products should be more penetrated into the system.

Period poverty India Scotland
Image credit: Unsplash

6. What has Indian govt done so far for this?

The Indian government announced last year that it is in the process of putting a cap on the price of sanitary napkins. The National List of Essential Medicines is also reviewing the prices of other hygiene products including soaps, adult diapers, hospital hand gloves, and floor disinfectant. The final list of essential items that will come under price control will likely be released in the next two months.

The move has the potential to make period products and soap more affordable for millions of people who menstruate in the country and don’t have access to safe hygiene. In 2018, India declared tampons and sanitary napkins tax-free, but most sanitary pads cost between 5 to 12 rupees (8 cents to 20 cents) per pad, which is a luxury for the nearly 800 million people who live on less than $1.90 a day.

7. How are period products priced in India

Last year, the Centre said they will ensure that all these products are available and affordable to the common people as they play a crucial role in disease control and maintaining health and hygiene. Some of these products will be available for free at primary and community health centers.

Prices of the sanitary pads are already among the lowest in the world, a senior executive at a multinational consumer goods company told the Economic Times. But at hospitals and institutions, patients end up paying more for the necessities. Some manufacturers have expressed concerns about the government’s planned crackdown on hygiene items. Companies argue the price cap on certain items will force them to use cheaper raw materials and produce lower-quality products, according to the Economic Times. But it is unclear how much the price will change for period products that aren’t single-use, like menstrual cups and reusable pads – which tend to be more expensive upfront but offer a more sustainable and affordable option long term. The standing committee on affordable medicine will have the final say in which medical items and health care products will fall under the new price control.

We hope India learns from Scotland’s example and end the menace of period poverty sooner than we think.

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