Women's Health in Papua New GuineaWomen’s health in Papua New Guinea is wrought with struggles, stemming from both inadequate healthcare centers and the country’s law. The gender inequity of the situation sees men receiving more comprehensive medical care than women. Unfortunately, Papua New Guinea’s adherence to its healthcare policies does not include extending further care to women. Many of those who identify as women on official documents get pushed under the general term of “population,” resulting in a lack of gender-specific reports on women’s overall medical conditions. Women’s health in Papua New Guinea needs prioritizing, especially in the maternity category. With 230 deaths per 100,000 live births, the country has the highest maternal mortality rate in the Pacific.

Women’s Health in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is a mainly patriarchal society where women are often discriminated against and looked down upon due to gender norms. Many women do not achieve higher education, which then perpetuates a cycle of early marriages and motherhood at a young age. This cycle has made it difficult for women to establish themselves within the workforce. Even within the workforce, it is relatively uncommon for women to receive fair benefits and wages. Discrimination against women presents a significant barrier to women’s health in Papua New Guinea.

The Effect of COVID-19 in Papua New Guinea

Unfortunately, many women in Papua New Guinea cannot afford healthcare even if it were available and accessible. In households, women are responsible for the majority of unpaid care work and domestic duties. With school closures amid COVID-19, the domestic workload of women has only increased. The pandemic has exacerbated the financial struggle for many with job losses and wage cuts.

With vulnerable populations unable to leave their homes during COVID-19, gender-based violence is on the rise. With quarantines and lockdowns underway, many essential service centers had to close their doors, leaving vulnerable populations without help. Furthermore, many organizations that provided funding for women’s health centers had to divert the funding toward addressing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The insurgence of COVID-19 made already inaccessible services even more difficult to obtain. Though the number of COVID-19 cases reported in official documents is already high, studies and institutions suspect that the number is actually much higher. The pandemic brings high mortality rates and government-instilled quarantines have led to businesses temporarily closing or shutting down completely. The COVID-19 pandemic strains healthcare in Papua New Guinea. As a result, women’s health has not taken priority.

World Vision

To combat the gender inequality in healthcare, groups such as World Vision have projects dedicated to specifically aiding women in Papua New Guinea. World Vision’s project, the Papua New Guinea Health and Nutrition Project, focuses on the health of mothers and children. Since its establishment, the project has helped 28,628 people by providing essential medicines and treatments, including HIV treatment.

Additionally, the program trained 200 people and stationed them as community health workers and birth assistants. One of the project’s biggest objectives was providing access to healthcare centers for pregnant and lactating women. This kind of aid will ensure lower maternal mortality rates as prenatal conditions can be diagnosed and treated more easily if mothers regularly access healthcare services.

UN Women

U.N. Women has made it a goal to bring more awareness to societal gender issues, creating awareness programs that encourage female leadership roles in society and politics. U.N. Women encourages the involvement of women in governmental decisions to address discrimination against women and the resulting impact on women’s health. U.N. Women believes that female-led organizations encourage women to better their communities. The impact and efforts of individuals can be used as stepping stones to work toward more extensive healthcare access outside of the pandemic.

Looking Ahead

Organizations are trying to alleviate the negative impact of COVID-19 on healthcare. Furthermore, organizations are putting women’s health at the center of healthcare priorities. With the establishment of female-targeted health centers, women who either lost or struggled to access healthcare, including vaccinations, will receive the prioritized care necessary for their well-being. These organizations continue to push for changes to both mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 and ensure that women’s health in Papua New Guinea improves for the better.

Seren Dere
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Myanmar
Myanmar, once known as Burma, is a sovereign state in Southeast Asia with a population of around 52.4 million people. Of the population, 26.6 million people are women. Over the last decade, Myanmar has embarked on an accelerated socioeconomic and political transition. However, it has fallen short in correcting the gender inequality ravaging the nation’s laws and policies. Despite the country’s development, there is still room for improvement in upholding women’s rights in Myanmar.

Gender Disparity in Myanmar

Global indices and national data show the disparities between Myanmar citizens on the basis of sex. The 2020 Gender Inequality Index ranked Myanmar 147 of 189 countries, while the 2021 Social Institutions and Gender Index identified Myanmar as the eighth-most discriminatory country out of nine Southeast Asian nations.

Despite the country’s 2008 Constitution guaranteeing equal rights and equal legal protection to all persons, a subsequent report from the CEDAW Committee voiced concerns. Namely, the constitution contains references to women mostly as mothers. This reinforces their stereotypical role as caretakers in need of protection. It also states that “nothing in this section shall prevent the appointment of men to the positions that are naturally suitable for men only.” Despite equal rights in areas such as inheritance law or marital property, Myanmar’s deeply rooted patriarchal values still shape families and restrict women’s participation in all levels of decision-making.

Key Areas of Discrimination

One area that severely limits women’s participation in decision-making is economic activities. According to the 2014 census, only 50.5% of working-age women were part of the labor force, nearly 34% less than men. Moreover, women tend to have employment in lower-skilled jobs and lower-level posts, which suggests that Myanmar’s society values men’s work more than women’s and pays accordingly, creating a gender wage gap.

Other key areas of concern include the high maternal mortality ratio and insufficient access to reproductive health services. As of 2017, Myanmar had the highest maternal mortality ratio in Southeast Asia, with 282 per 100,000 live births. One can mainly attribute these maternal deaths to Myanmar’s crumbling healthcare system.

Hospitals lack basic equipment because of funds that the military junta appropriate, resulting in poor coverage of reproductive health services. In fact, to date, there is very little known about the patterns of maternal health service utilization in Myanmar. High fertility rates and delays in reaching emergency care also contribute to the problem. A further concern is the heightened discrimination of women in ethnic minority groups. Also worrisome, the most impoverished rural areas suffer from an exacerbation of these issues.

Action to Improve Women’s Rights in Myanmar

Several organizations are now taking action to improve women’s rights. A top priority is educating people on the importance of women’s rights and addressing the surrounding myths and misconceptions. Of these organizations, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement is extremely important. As a governmental organization working toward gender equality, it launched the National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women (2013-2022) to promote and protect women’s rights in Myanmar.

The plan, which aligns with the 12 areas outlined in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, presents a significant strategic opportunity to integrate women’s rights in Myanmar’s reform agenda. Although Myanmar is not yet at the level of its Southeast Asian neighbors, women’s political participation has increased since the plan’s implementation. According to the Department of Social Welfare, 10 domestic vocational centers were established to support women’s development and security in top conflict areas.

The Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association, which emerged in 1991 to promote the quality of family life, is Myanmar’s largest NGO. It is also the leader in providing sexual and reproductive health services across the country to more than 200,000 clients annually. Additional bodies include Myanmar’s Women Entrepreneurs Association (MWEA), a strategic alliance established in 1995.

The MWEA is composed of more than 1,600 businesswomen highlighting the capabilities of Myanmar’s women entrepreneurs. The MWEA actively engages foreign donors and potential investors to create business opportunities for women entrepreneurs. An example of this is the 2020 India-Myanmar agreement to create a roadmap for collaborative opportunities between women entrepreneurs of both countries.

A Hopeful Future for Women’s Rights in Myanmar

All of these organizations and measures advocate for the advancement of women’s rights in Myanmar. The most crucial areas are improving women’s education and health, advancing women’s roles in the economy and ending violence against women. The progress of these bodies and organizations reflects Myanmar’s evolving socioeconomic landscape.

However, these gains have been under threat since the military takeover in February 2021. But, while the military junta attempts to regress the country back to its repressively patriarchal roots, the women of Myanmar are on the front lines, representing 60% of protestors and some 80% of the movement’s leaders.

Myanmar’s women embrace the opportunity to not only change the present after a long history of military oppression but also secure a brighter future. Although Myanmar has a long way to go before it reaches gender equality, these protests make it clear that Myanmar’s women are the voice of the revolution, committed to achieving gender equality.

– Alejandra del Carmen Jimeno
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Health in Detention CentersAcross the United States, and the world, women have continually faced challenges regarding access to fair and proper healthcare. However, the detention centers of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the border of the United States are the source of alarming stories of women who have been denied fundamental rights to healthcare. In a system with the purpose of solely providing emergency care to secure deportations, women’s health loses its priority. Denying and delaying the needs of women in these facilities has potentially dangerous consequences for their health. Prioritizing women’s health in detention centers is of the utmost importance.

Women’s Health in Detention Centers

Women in ICE detention facilities in the United States frequently confront many challenges in their attempt to secure proper healthcare. Prominent among these limitations include the language barrier that prevents many immigrant women, who are unfamiliar with English, from being able to communicate their health concerns. This problem persists especially through medical consent and the issue of immigrant women signing contracts that they cannot understand. Additionally, many women do not know their rights or the standard protocols of the facilities. As a result, many women assume that certain treatments or provisions are unavailable. Giselle M, a woman who was detained during her pregnancy, endured discomfort while sleeping because she was unaware that according to the center’s rules, an extra mattress had to be provided.

According to a Human Rights Watch interview, however, a major reason why women decline medical attention is because of a lack of confidentiality. Although ICE’s protocol stipulates that doctors are expected to maintain patient privacy, breaches of confidentiality are quite common in detention facilities. Many women reported that guards were privy to some of the medical details that doctors had access to. Women were less willing to share their personal struggles if others could find out. For example, pregnancy tests were not always done individually and the news could be quickly spread across detention centers.

The Consequences of Inadequate Healthcare

Access to healthcare for marginalized women is extremely significant as without the necessary medical care, the health of women in these detention centers could be jeopardized. Minimal access to regular screenings, contraception and treatment have fostered prejudice and damaged the health of undocumented women.

In 2017, a woman named Teresa, who was four months pregnant at the time, was detained for 24 hours on the United States border. Overnight, Teresa experienced heavy bleeding and extreme pain, yet she was still not transported to a hospital for emergency care. Only days later did detention staff confirm that Teresa had miscarried. She faced several complications after the miscarriage but her medical health was still neglected.

In addition, important tests such as pap smears and breast exams, which are instrumental in the prevention of certain diseases, were completely denied to many women in these facilities. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took note of these inadequacies and issued multiple reports. But, the conditions in border camps and detention centers pertaining to healthcare have improved minimally.

The Suppressed Voices of Women

Significantly, many women fear the consequences of vocalizing their complaints because of the power ICE holds over their future in the United States. For immigrants leaving their countries in search of a better life for themselves and their families, receiving an identity in the United States means sacrificing their basic needs. From an ICE county jail in Arizona, a group of women detailed their experience in a letter about ICE’s medical facilities. In particular, the letter noted, “when we’ve complained to the nurses, we get ridiculed with replies like: ‘You should have made better choices … ICE is not here to make you feel comfortable.’” Various detention centers throughout the United States have isolated women and caused them to suppress their concerns.

Solutions

Regardless of their circumstances, women in detention centers in the United States deserve the basic rights that should be provided to them in the form of a secure healthcare system. Although altering the system is a difficult task, joint efforts can raise the quality of medical attention for migrant women’s health. Already, several bills attempt to address this issue such as the Women’s Health Protection Act and the Stop Shackling and Detaining Pregnant Women Act. Oftentimes, prisons and detention centers create policies with men in mind and exclude women from their due rights. Both of the aforementioned bills advocate for the rights of women in detention centers. Additionally, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) helped to pass the First Step Act in 2018, which would help to protect pregnant women in jail. With the passing of these laws, women’s health in detention centers can improve.

Esha Kelkar
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Myanmar
Period poverty is when women do not have adequate access to sanitary napkins and other resources to aid them during menstruation. This leads many women to use the same napkin for an extended period of time, increasing the risk of urinary tract infections. Period poverty in Myanmar is particularly prevalent.

Period poverty research is a relatively new topic. There are no formal records documenting how many women lack access to pads. Additionally, the investigation into period poverty is more recent in Southeast Asian countries. Based on the information that some have acquired, here are five facts about period poverty in Myanmar.

5 Facts About Period Poverty in Myanmar

  1. Women Often Stay Home: Period poverty has long-term effects on women. For example, when women are on their period, they tend to stay at home, where they are closer to sanitary napkins and other supplies. Women spend about 10-20% of the year at home due to their period and a lack of sanitary items. In addition, disabled women and women in prison have little to no access to pads.
  2. Organizations Providing Sanitary Products: Organizations such as Bloody Good Period and The Pad Project have been working hard to raise money to donate sanitary napkins to women in countries facing period poverty. Zuraidah Daut is a social activist in Malaysia who places empty boxes outside of storefronts to collect donations. Many people donate pads and sanitary napkins for those who cannot afford them.
  3. Adequate Sanitation Facilities: Another reason women and girls might stay home during their periods is a lack of adequate sanitation facilities at school or work. For example, in many schools, girls and boys share toilets, which increases the likelihood of girls staying home during their periods. Public facilities also do not always have soap, water or a place to dispose of sanitary products.
  4. Cultural Stereotypes: Many people hold stigmatizing cultural stereotypes about periods in Myanmar. For example, some people in Myanmar believe that periods are dirty. As a result, about 50% of women think periods are a disease. Furthermore, about 80% of women reported feeling embarrassed by their first period. People in Myanmar commonly believe that women should not wash their hair, go to temples or eat tea leaf salad to cleanse themselves during their period.
  5. Changing Mindsets: The good news is that women in Myanmar are improving their mindsets about periods. Burmese artist Shwe Wutt Hmon displayed an art exhibit exploring the shame surrounding periods and menstruation in Yangon, Myanmar. The piece involved asking 30 different women about their experiences and opinions of their period. Hmon encouraged women to accept menstruation and respect their bodies. Her exhibitions depict women eating tea leaf salad and kneeling with their legs chained and sitting beside one another, which are all superstitions the Myanmar people connect to the perception that periods as dirty. This effort and others like it are essential for changing long-held beliefs about women and menstruation.

Period poverty in Myanmar prevents many women from having access to sanitary products or adequate sanitation facilities. Cultural stereotypes around menstruation also make managing periods difficult for women. Fortunately, many organizations and individuals are intervening and educating others on better and safer practices. Over time, sanitary products will hopefully become more accessible as the stigma surrounding menstruation decreases.

– Alyssa Ranola
Photo: Flickr

3 Organizations Working to End Period Poverty in GuatemalaPeriod poverty in Guatemala weighs heavily on the country’s women and girls. The lack of access to hygiene management education and proper sanitation tools forces young girls out of school for days at a time. As young girls grow up in Guatemala, they are met with a challenge. Specifically, their menstruation cycle. Not only is this a milestone in their personal lives but also a limitation. The lack of access to necessary feminine products forces girls to stay home for days. However, as technology evolves and resources are found, many organizations are working to end period poverty in Guatemala and beyond.

Days For Girls

Days For Girls commits the scope of its work to support young women throughout their lives. The organization begins this process by providing a Days For Girls Kit, education on proper self-care, training and general support for girls. Additionally, the group spreads awareness through global partnerships, mobilizing volunteer networks and working toward normalizing menstruation.

The DFG Kit consists of many necessary items for a woman’s period. All the products are reusable, easily washable and durable. In fact, users say the items can last up to three years. These kits have been made to use a small amount of water, dry quickly and keep women comfortable while going about their daily lives. Furthermore, Days For Girl also handmakes the kits and the bags they come in, giving them a touch of beauty and personality.

The impact of this organization is felt by many. Thus far, Days For Girls has touched the lives of more than 1.7 million females. The organization’s reach is spread across more than 140 countries, with more than a thousand teams and chapters. The organization also has a main office stationed in Guatemala, focused on growing the team and production.

GRACE Project (Guatemalan Rural Adult and Children’s Education)

The GRACE Project is a collaboration of groups in Southwest Florida. The project aims to educate, train and help employ the local Guatemalan women as well as women in Guatemala. The organization develops and performs workshops and home visits in which educational materials on reproductive health and local resources are provided.

In addition to education, the GRACE Project creates handmade menstruation kits. All the products are reusable, washable, and long-lasting. Included in the kit are fertility bracelets with instructions, hields for any leakage, flannel cotton pads, soap, a gallon bag for washing use and underwear.

The hard work of these volunteers speaks for itself. In the past year, 500 of the kits were given to women all over Guatemala. Along with these, the organization has also passed out 800 Reproductive Health Kits within Central America. The fertility bracelet included in the kit is especially empowering for women as it gives them the protection they need. Moreover, the bracelet is 85% effective as a life long contraception. The GRACE Project continues to grow production and delivery methods through workshops in Guatemala.

SERniña

Founder Danielle Skogen, a teacher, lived in Guatemala for three years. While teaching she began to notice a pattern. She found a need for health and sanitation education, in particular among the girls. Often, Skogen would watch girls drop out of school due to a lack of access to proper sanitary items and a lack of support from their community. Thus, she developed SERniña as an educational support program.

The SERniña program works with already established educational organizations to educate young women and help end period poverty in Guatemala. The organization teaches a range of topics such as:

  • Understanding Your Human Rights
  • Sexual & Menstrual Health
  • Financial Literacy
  • Goal-setting

In the workshops, teachers empower young women to be confident and take care of their self-care needs. All of the organization’s lessons are taught by trained local women who are certified staff for SERniña. Ultimately, the program allows for conversations and participation in a safe space with specific lessons focused on self-advocacy, self-care and overall self-love. As a result, the program has delivered more than 400 hours of workshops to 180 girls and counting.

The efforts of these three organizations play an important role in ending period poverty in Guatemala. Education, access to resources and support are needed to help young women develop higher standards of living as ending period poverty will result in more girls staying in school. As the work to end period poverty in Guatemala continues, the government and non-profit organizations must help support local organizations like Days for Girls, the GRACE project and SERniña.

Sallie Blackmon
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Guatemala As young girls grow up in Guatemala, they are met with a challenge: their menstruation cycle. Period poverty in Guatemala weighs heavily on the country. The lack of access to hygiene management education and proper sanitation tools forces young girls out of school for days at a time.  However, as technology evolves and resources are found, many organizations are working to end period poverty in Guatemala and beyond.

Days For Girls

Days For Girls commits to supporting women in girlhood and throughout the rest of their lives. The organization begins this process by providing a Days For Girls (DFG) Kit, education on hygiene and sanitation, training and general support. Additionally, the group spreads awareness through global partnerships, mobilizing volunteer networks and working toward destigmatizing menstruation.

The DFG Kit consists of a multitude of necessities for a period. All the products are reusable, easily washable and durable. In fact, users of the patented kit say the items can last up to three years. Specifically, these kits have been made to use a small amount of water, dry quickly and keep users comfortable while going about their daily lives. Furthermore, Days For Girl also hand makes the kits and the bags they come in, giving them a touch of beauty.

Thus far, Days For Girls has touched the lives of more than 1.7 million females. The organization’s reach is spread across more than 140 countries, with more than a thousand mobilizing teams and chapters. Currently, they have over 15 countries with enterprises. Importantly, the group has an office stationed in Guatemala, focused on growing the team and production in the country.

GRACE Project (Guatemalan Rural Adult and Children’s Education)

The GRACE Project stems from a collaboration of groups in Southwest Florida. The project aims to educate, train and help employ the local Guatemalan women. The organization develops and implements workshops and home visits where they provide educational materials on reproductive health and local resources.

In addition to education, The GRACE Project creates handmade menstruation kits. All the products are reusable, washable and long-lasting.

Included in the kit there are:

  • Fertility bracelets with instructions
  • Shields that are barriers for any leakage
  • Flannel cotton pads
  • Soap
  • Gallon bag for washing use
  • Underwear

In the past year, 500 of the kits were given to women all over Guatemala. Along with these, the project has also passed out 800 Reproductive Health Kits within Central America. The kit provides up to three years’ worth of period products and a lifetime of birth control. The GRACE Project continues to grow production and delivery methods through workshops in Guatemala.

SERniña

SERniña Founder, Danielle Skogen, lived in Guatemala for three years working as a teacher. During her time, she noticed a need for health and hygiene education. Often, Skogen would watch girls drop out of school due to a lack of access to proper sanitary items and a lack of support from their community. Thus, she developed SERniña as an educational support program.

The SERniña program works with already established educational organizations to bring about curriculums to educate and help eradicate period poverty in Guatemala. The organization teaches a range of topics such as:

  • Understanding Your Human Rights
  • Sexual & Menstrual Health
  • Financial Literacy
  • Goal-setting

In the workshops, facilitators work with the women to be confident and take care of their hygienic needs. Trained local women who are certified facilitators for SERniña teach all of the organization’s lessons. The program allows for conversations and participation in a safe space with specific lessons focused on self-advocacy, self-care and overall self-love.  As a result, the program has delivered more than 400 hours of workshops to 180 girls and counting.

As shown above, the efforts of each organization play an important role in the Guatemalan community. Education, access and support truly uplift the local women. The work to eradicate period poverty in Guatemala can continue thanks to aid from organizations like these.

Sallie Blackmon
Photo: Flickr

Female Health Care in KenyaPoverty affects genders differently, with women often being more disadvantaged than men. Meeting the strategic needs of those living in poverty must be accompanied by fulfilling practical gender needs. This will ensure equal access to economic progress for all. One NGO is working to fight gender discrimination by providing female health care in Kenya.

Girls in Danger

In the wake of COVID-19, mass closures of schools and businesses have further hindered the economic development of remote Kenyan districts. The strict COVID-19 guidelines implemented by local authorities have resulted in the closing of safe homes and centers for girls. The preoccupation with COVID-19 regulations led authorities to produce minimal effort to stop the violence against women and girls. On top of the pandemic, the country has fallen victim to other disasters. Extreme droughts and flooding, as well as a locust invasion, have lowered the food supply for rural areas.

These desperate circumstances have left low-income families with limited financial options. Some families have resorted to employing their young children and marrying off their daughters in exchange for money and cattle. This incites increased gender-based violence as child marriages leave girls vulnerable to sexual and physical violence.

Dr. Esho, who works on-site for Amref Health, said, “Including community systems in the prevention of and response to FGM/C (female genital mutilation and cutting) and child marriage is more important than ever. More women and girls are now at risk of harmful practices and gender-based violence.”

Centering Women in Health Care

Amref Health Africa is an NGO based in Nairobi, Kenya. It has been a crucial part of introducing health care services and technology to Sub-Saharan Africa. Established in 1957, the organization has a long history of bringing modern medicine to rural African communities.

Amref Health Africa is proving how female empowerment isn’t a silly social movement but a crucial factor in women’s livelihoods. The NGO dedicates much of its work to improving female health care in Kenya. Women often lack education on their sexual health, which impedes prudent, informed decisions regarding their futures. Advancements in female health care in Kenya can empower women to take control of their bodies and pregnancies. Additionally, it can offer better support to these women in their chosen paths.

Amref also aids women suffering from violence. Organization members, such as Dr. Esho, work jointly with local activists and health workers to construct a plan of action. The community members have firsthand knowledge and experience working with survivors of FGM/C and other cruelties, which Amref acknowledges and utilizes. Therefore, the NGO ensures victims are getting proper care and refuge from their abusive situations.

What We Can Do

Amref strives to bring awareness to gender-based violence and the positive effect of proper female health care in Kenya. With the hashtag #EndFGM, Amref is trying to engage international activists through social media. The organization is also accepting direct donations through its website.

One may feel powerless during times of international emergencies. However, that must not stop everyone from doing their part. Those who want to help can contact their congressmen and congresswomen as well as other representatives to protect the U.S.’s foreign aid budget. This will benefit NGOs, similar to Amref Health, that work closely with poor communities to identify unique problems and solutions.

Lizt Garcia
Photo: Flickr

Period poverty in ChinaThe monthly cost of purchasing menstrual sanitary products is not a small amount for females worldwide. “Period Poverty” refers to the inability to afford access to pads, tampons, or liners to manage menstrual bleeding. A campaign in China, is working on addressing period poverty for its girls and women. However, it still remains a women’s rights issue globally.

The General Problem

The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) reports that around 10% of young women around the world are now unable to afford period protection. FIGO also found that 12% of women have to improvise with devices that are potentially ineffective and unsafe. According to UNICEF, there are more than 500 million females that lack a proper place to change their sanitary protection during their period. Period poverty causes long-term impacts of health and hygiene for girls and women. Time management, the chance of receiving education and employment are also affected by period poverty. All of these factors influence a woman’s lifelong development and wellbeing.

Period Poverty in China

The situation of period poverty in China is not much different. Many women and young girls, especially in rural areas, cannot afford feminine hygiene products. Instead of sanitary pads, impoverished women have to use toilet paper or old cloth. Any available yet unsafe materials on hand — even bark for some women in extreme poverty — are substituted to get through the period. Unfortunately, the lack of basic menstrual knowledge and the common menstruation taboo in China only worsen the situation. It is difficult and embarrassing to practice optimal hygiene with dignity in China. As a result, many girls in rural China skip classes or even leave school once they start menstruating.

Campaign for a lower tampon tax

In recent years, the Chinese public is growing more aware of period poverty in China. They are calling for more affordable sanitary products. Additionally, the public advocates for more humanitarian public health policies that take women’s biological needs into accounts. As of 2020, the Chinese government regulates a 13% sales tax on feminine sanitary products. That is 4% higher than the 9% tax for essential daily necessities such as grain, water and contraceptives.

Many other countries, including India and Malaysia, have either exempted or reduced the tax on sanitary products. They have done so for the sake of gender equality. In response, a couple of online campaigns emerged in China in the past few years. The campaigns appeal for a lower tampon tax in the country.

The “Stand by Her” Project

Before the national public health policy can ameliorate, some philanthropists and social organizations have jumped to the cause. They have stood up first to help the low-income women in underdeveloped regions. So far, the “Stand by Her” is one of the most well-known and large-scale projects that deal with period poverty in China.

Liang Yu Stacey, a 24-year-old Chinese feminist activist, initiated the “Reassurance for Sisters Fighting the Virus” online campaign in early 2020. She aimed to raise money to provide feminine sanitary products for the health care workers fighting against COVID-19. The project then extended to a broader scale and evolved into “Stand by Her.”

“Stand by Her” is a voluntary foundation that coordinates donation, procurement and distribution of hygiene products to under-age girls in impoverished provinces. The foundation regularly sends sanitary pads to women around China. In addition, the project also hands out brochures and holds lectures in middle schools to popularize menstruation and sex education. In the first phase of 2020-2021, the team continues to plan to help more than 6,000 girls from 33 schools across China. Within 3 days of opening the donation portals, “Stand by Her” raised 368,700 RMB (54,500 USD).

The online conversations, campaigns and donations display some positive signals in the area of menstruation. Feminine hygiene is gradually breaking away from the conventional social taboo. Reducing tax on women’s menstrual products would be a win for women’s rights in China.

– Jingyan Zhang
Photo: Flickr

ChhaupadiChhaupadi, a form of menstrual taboo, plagues the country of Nepal. Although it is a social taboo in Hindi tradition, the practice of chhaupadi is often practiced in the far-western region of Nepal and in Himalayan regions. This is because the event of menstruation, although a normal and healthy bodily function for females, is considered a form of sin and impurity. Although menstrual taboo exists in other regions of Nepal and in other South Asian countries, it is most prevalent in the Himalayan regions. Here, it is called chhaupadi, “Chhau” meaning menstruation and “padi” referring to women.

What is Chhaupadi?

Chhaupadi occurs during the female menstruation cycle. While women and girls are menstruating, they are considered impure, intouchable, and even perhaps, harbingers of bad fortune. During the menstruation cycle, any object a woman touches is deemed impure, including livestock, water resources and plants. It is believed that if touched, these objects need to be purified in some way. As a result, in regions where Chhaupadi is practiced, women are banished from their homes. During this exile, women and girls are often sent to a “chhau” shed, which is essentially a livestock shed, and the menstruating female will remain there for about four days. Girls who are experiencing menstruation for the first time may need to stay in the “chhau” for up to 14 days. Unfortunately, girls who may experience difficulties or health issues while menstruating must wait until their cycle ends before seeking medical care, which can worsen possible health problems and symptoms.

Even if women are not directly practicing menstrual exile, a 2018 study by sociologist Saruna Ghimire at Miami University found that 100% of girls are restricted by menstrual taboos during their cycles. These women are not allowed to touch food, touch the water tap or participate in normal family activities. The menstrual taboo restricts the resources available, limiting the autonomy of women and possibly damaging their self-image. Additionally, the Ghimire study found that 72% of females are subjected to menstrual exile due to Chhapuadi.

The Dangers of Menstrual Exile

Not only is the stigma associated with menstruation a problem within these communities but the actual practice of Chhaupadi poses many health risks for the women and girls involved. For instance, the temporary shelters used during Chhaupadi are unhygienic, which increases the risk of health complications such as urinary tract infections, diarrhea, dehydration and hypothermia. Additionally, women and girls living in these sheds are subject to the dangers of snake bites and other animal attacks.

Each year, at least one woman or girl dies during menstrual exile. These cases often go unnoticed by the media, leaving the beliefs of community members unchanged. Moreover, the isolation that comes with Chhaupadi poses dangerous consequences to the mental health of these females. Oftentimes, these women and girls will feel abandoned, insecure, guilty and embarrassed.

Law Prohibiting Chhapuadi

In 2017, the Nepali Government enacted a new law that prohibits Chhapuadi. Any family member that forces a female to practice Chhaupadi can be punished with a jail sentence of three months or fined 3,000 rupees, which translates to about $30. Although the Nepal Supreme Court previously banned Chhapuadi in 2005, the practice has been difficult to disintegrate as it is deeply rooted in traditional beliefs. Besides the legislative component, local police are given the task of destroying Chhapuadi shelters. At the same time, some activists argue that Chhapuadi, although rooted in the patriarchal aspects of Nepali culture, will be difficult to stop as many women choose to practice it. Yet, with the new law, women who choose to practice Chhapuadi are required to do so in a safer way, by isolating themselves from their families in a separate area or room and not a shed.

The Road Ahead

Although Chhaupadi stems from Hindu scripture, the practice is one that has existed for centuries. Thus, the actual practice of menstrual exile may not stop right away. Luckily, the Nepalese Government has made strides in reducing Chhaupadi through the law and police action, and if Chhaupadi is practiced by choice, it will be done in a much safer way.

– Caitlin Calfo
Photo: Flickr

Menstrual StigmaMillions of women and girls around the globe are affected by period poverty every day. Countless women must choose between food and menstrual products. Due to insufficient access to menstrual products and/or menstrual stigma, schoolgirls often miss school when they are on their periods. Some teenagers even use unhygienic insoles of shoes to substitute menstrual products, which may lead to further physical health risks due to bacterial infections. Moreover, other women resort to free contraceptive injections (which stops the release of an egg) when they cannot afford menstrual products. This, in turn, leads to health risks such as significant bone mineral density loss.

People widely consider period poverty as insufficient access to menstrual products. While this accounts for a major portion of period poverty, the term also refers to issues of shame, menstrual stigma, and the lack of education about menstruation. Around 50% of girls in the U.K. experience menstrual shame and around 70% of girls in Uganda are embarrassed and fearful about menstruating.

Access to Period Products Worldwide

Globally, a minimum of 500 million women experiences period poverty, every month. Among the 355 million menstruators in India, 12% cannot afford period products. Similarly, 65% of females in Kenya are unable to afford menstrual products. Menstruation products are extremely difficult to access because of their high costs. This, even though these products are a necessity. They are perceived as luxury products to millions because many countries still do not accept the products as “daily necessities” and still have not abolished the value-added tax (VAT) on menstrual products. The 2020 tax rate on menstrual products in Hungary marked 27%, followed by Sweden with 25% and Mexico with 16%. Some of the countries that abolished VAT on menstrual products include Malaysia, Lebanon, Tanzania, Ireland among others.

Effects of Menstrual Stigma

Women and girls face period stigma every day. Menstrual stigma causes women and girls to feel embarrassment and shame about their healthy bodies. Furthermore, it keeps them at home when they should be at school — affecting their education and social life. In Nepal, the community expels menstruating women to huts when they are on their period cycles because menstruators are perceived as impure. In Uganda, 70% of girls feel embarrassed to be on their periods and are afraid of menstrual-related accidents. This fear is such that more than 50% of the population skips school to avoid teasing from classmates. In the U.K., 50% of girls feel ashamed of their periods. One anecdote shared that a girl and her classmates suffered great embarrassment when a male teacher taught them about menstruation.

The Pink Protest

Many nonprofit organizations are actively fighting against period poverty. Other than NGOs, period poverty activists create many campaigns that also work toward ending period poverty. Based in the U.K., The Pink Protest works with period poverty activists on the #FreePeriods campaign, to “call on the British government to put an end to British period poverty.” A teenage activist, Amika George, initiated the #FreePeriods campaign in 2017 after she read a report by BBC that 10% of girls cannot afford menstrual products in the U.K. On a winter day in 2017, the campaign gathered 2,000 people to protest. People held up signs saying “bleeding is not a luxury,” “ditch tax on Tampax,” “we are not ovary-acting” along with many celebrities and period poverty activists giving impactful speeches. This included model Adwoa Aboah, Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom Jess Phillips, comedian Deborah Frances-White, period poverty activist Chella Quint, and more.

The Pink Protest has accomplished to become a part of the change of two U.K. laws. Also, they acknowledge that engagement of young people and the utilization of online activism have helped them in this goal. The Pink Protest is a good example of how society can utilize social media to fight period poverty. With their weekly Instagram series ‘On Wednesdays We Wear Pink and Protest,’ The Pink Protest encourages young people across the globe to take one action each week. In this way, young people may become activists, themselves. The Pink Protest hopes that as it provides an exciting and easy way to involve people in activism (through regular campaigns and video series), they can “redefine what activism means to young people”. In this way, they can “create a way for activism to be not just accessible, but also fun.”

The Role of Social Media

According to The Pew Research Center, 70% of Americans use social media and 90% of the people aged 18–29 use at least one social media site. It is also surveyed that 90% of teenagers aged 13–17 have experienced social media and 51% visit social media sites, daily.

The U.N. also discussed the power of social media and how it can help to reduce period poverty. According to the U.N., social media has the power to raise public awareness and get people more involved. As mentioned previously, period poverty is about insufficient access to menstrual products and menstrual stigma. Therefore, openly sharing information about this via social media, which many teenagers and young adults use, can reduce menstrual stigma. Sharing information through posts and infographics alone are good ways to educate others and increase attention to period poverty. Social media engages young people to become period poverty activists. Consequently, this increases the chance that young people become more compassionate and active with menstruators. The millions of women struggling from period poverty around the world stand to benefit greatly.

Alison Choi
Photo: Wikimedia Commons