Can we de-stigmatize feminine hygiene already?
On February 25 this year, the Scottish parliament voted almost unanimously to make women’s sanitary products freely available. If the bill goes through, Scotland stands to become the first country to do so.
Lest you rejoice too soon, let’s take a moment to remember that around the time the kilt-wearing nation was using its democratic powers to balance the scales, closer to home, Swami Krushnaswarup Das, of the Swaminarayan Bhuj Mandir in Gujratwent viral for a video where he is heard preaching that if a menstruating woman cooks food, then she will be reborn as “kutri” (bitch).
Two steps forward, one step back.
It is also probably worth remembering that eyebrow-raising furore that ensued when a 45% tax on imported sanitary napkins was announced, an issue that the NBR was quick to claim as “false news” in the face of public outcry.
That the “pink tax” rumours seemed credible at all says a lot about our prevailing attitudes towards reproductive health and feminine hygiene. Yes, we’re starting to get a few “woke” TVCs and campaigns trying to de-stigmatize the issue, but the general norm is still for these products to be sold in discreet paper bags, as though they are contraband.
The fight to break these taboos has been ongoing for decades now, but in the face of the ongoing climate crisis, it has never been more urgent. That’s right. All this dancing around the topic of Maya Apa’s monthly visit is hurting the planet.
Allow me to elaborate.
On one hand, as conflict and climate change displace millions of people from their homelands, the host countries fall under immense pressure to create liveable situations for the refugees. Of all the things that need to be addressed, menstruation has been a neglected challenge for an estimated 30 million girls and women displaced due to worldwide conflicts and disasters.
Without the access to the proper products, or space and privacy to change, or in many cases awareness about menstrual health, these refugee camps and centres become hotbeds of disease and infections.
On the other hand, because of the taboos concerning feminine hygiene and reproductive health, not nearly enough research has been made to innovate the existing products, even for those who have access to them. Approximately 20 pads/tampons per month, equating to 240 per year which over the average lifespan of a menstruating female (approximately 40 years of periods) gives us the grand total of 9,600 feminine hygiene products used during one woman’s lifetime.
Now multiply that by the 3.5 billion women on the planet and we have a considerable amount of potentially avoidable waste. A plastic, industrially manufactured, disposable sanitary pad requires about 500 to 800 years to decompose, so we’re talking about pollution whose effects will last a long, long time.
And if there’s anything we know about the ongoing climate crisis, it’s that the biggest resource we’re running low on, is time.
As March rolls in and Women’s Day campaigns are hastily rolled out, can we pass on the chocolates the flowers, and the cutesy slogans, and instead break the silence on an issue that’s no longer just a woman’s problem but everyone’s concern?
It’s well past high time that we stop playing the coy conservative card and ensure access to feminine health and hygiene facilities for all women.
And if we can invest in sending rockets off into space, we can certainly invest in research into mainstreaming sustainable menstruation (yes, such a thing exists, and it is totally possible).
It really isn’t just a girl thing; this matter concerns every one of us.
It took 6,000 years of human civilization to arrive at the point where we’re about to see for the very first time, a country to recognize feminine hygiene as a right. We can’t afford to wait that long for the next step.
Sabrina Fatma Ahmad is Features Editor, Dhaka Tribune.