Feature | Opinion

Period Poverty – Let’s Talk About It!

Period stigma is the biggest barrier to our advancement – girls miss school when they are menstruating and women often miss work because of lack or no access to sanitary care products.
20 Jun 2020 10:37
Period Poverty – Let’s Talk About It!
AnneMary Raduva (right) with her siblings holding the dignitary packs.

Opinion:

  • AnnMary Raduva is a Year 11 student at St Joseph’s Secondary School. She is an International Eco-Champion Hero and Climate Activist

I am not a medical expert nor a professional in women’s health but since April, my sisters and I have packed and distributed dignity kits for women and young adolescent girls in disaster and COVID-19 affected communities as part of our disaster assistance.

Our budgeted basic dignity kits aims to ensure all women and menstruating young girls have access to clean sanitary care after the Category 4 Tropical Cyclone Harold in April.

Our Lagilagi Relief campaign was born on the day TC Harold destroyed many homes in April. We learned that women and girls had to move to evacuation centres and most of them had lost every “girly” possession they had.

We also learned that girls were also unable to afford pads because “food was a priority” and these girls and women resorted to making their own makeshift pads from toilet paper, newspaper and socks.

Sanitary pads are a need – but only a few have the privilege to and afford comfortable sanitary products. Many will argue that cloth pads should be readily available in homes but there are also issues with cloth or napkin pads as well.

We have been exploring collaboration with small business operators who can support us with washable and reusable pads at a small cost and these are environmentally friendlier alternatives that we would like to work with in the near future.

All of those who menstruate experience challenges when managing their period. The challenges vary and it can include; a lack of sanitary pads, disposable facilities, enduring cramps and pain and being restricted from physical activities.

Breaking the period stigma and addressing period poverty is not just a woman’s issue – we need to talk about periods and to start a conversation on a sensitive and taboo issue that affects us – women and young girls.

Period stigma is the biggest barrier to our advancement – girls miss school when they are menstruating and women often miss work because of lack or no access to sanitary care products.

Period poverty is widespread and go unacknowledged and the taboo nature of menstruation prevents women and girls from talking about the problem.

When my sisters and I decided to pack budgeted dignity kits, we knew that talking about sanitary pads and menstruation are not easy to talk about.

But, we persevered to raise awareness on periods to eliminate the stigma and to explore how we could channel our dignity kits drive to change the conversations on periods.

Public awareness about this issue and the inability to access menstrual sanitary products has ignited a movement calling for free and accessible pads around the world because period poverty affects women and adolescent girls every day.

We were moved when the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern announced last week that New Zealand would tackle period poverty with free sanitary products for all schoolgirls.

We fully support Prime Minister Ardern’s move and hope that this becomes the foundation for other countries to take action.

We had wrongly assumed that period poverty is non-existent and is confined only to those in disadvantaged communities. In many cultures, including ours in the Pacific, there is a conspiracy of silence around menstruation, but there is hope. New Zealand, Scotland, Kenya and Kerala in Southern India are leading the fight to end period poverty.

Our first dignity kits were warmly welcomed and appreciated by the recipients and the feedback we received gave us the courage to speak out about period poverty.    The more we talk about it, the more we move towards removing the taboos, shame and stigma that have been enshrined in our culture and tradition.

Alongside these more general conversations, period poverty is a real issue for many of our young women and is symptomatic of more generalized poverty. Moving forward, we need to shake off the shame and stigma associated with menstruation and to change the conversations about it.

We would love to see Fiji be the next country to recognise and address this problem and be a pioneer in the Pacific in eliminating this poverty. Period poverty is denying women and girls the most basic and fundamental human right and we, as a society must not allow girls in our communities risk being trapped in this poverty.

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