Fighting Period Poverty in Colombia
Around 500 million women and girls worldwide face period poverty, where the lack of access to menstrual products due to financial constraints and inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities is a common issue, hindering girls and young women from attending school.
Colombia, a South American country, is making strides toward addressing period poverty. In 2018, it became the “first country in the region to eliminate the tax on tampons and menstrual towels.” International organizations such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) are working to combat period poverty in Colombia by providing education and financial aid for menstrual products.
Period Poverty in Colombia
Menstruation, a normal bodily function for half the world’s population, is still considered a taboo topic in many conservative societies. As a result, young people often lack access to proper education regarding period health and management. According to a survey by UNICEF, 34.8% of girls in rural Colombia had no prior knowledge of menstruation before experiencing it.
Financial constraints reportedly prevented more than 683,000 women in Colombia from accessing menstrual products, according to a 2021 report by El Pais. On average, towels and tampons cost Colombian women 180,000 pesos or $45, which accounts for a fifth of the country’s minimum wage. The report also revealed that 312,000 Colombians struggle to access clean and private toilets, further complicating the challenges of managing menstrual health and hygiene.
Period poverty poses challenges beyond economic, health and hygiene issues. According to the World Bank, in “developing countries, two of five girls who have reached menstruation age miss an average of five school days per month due to a lack of access to necessary facilities.” Unfortunately, this can lead to widening the gender gaps in the affected communities by slowing educational progress for girls.
In recent years, there has been a rise in open discussions regarding menstrual health and education, exemplified by the passing of the 2018 bill that eliminated the tax on period products. This move towards greater affordability of such products is a step towards ending period poverty in Colombia.
Since 1974, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has been operating in Colombia, where it has helped local governments manage reproductive health and gender equity issues. In 2020, the UNFPA provided Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services to 4,473 women of reproductive age. Additionally, the organization distributed dignity kits to approximately 1,200 women, offering essential menstrual products at no cost. In 2021, it spent $2,449,976 solely on SRH services. Moreover, it has been assisting national women’s organizations in advocating for women’s rights concerning SRH.
There has been a surge of national organizations fighting period poverty in Colombia. One such organization is Princesas Menstruantes, based in Medellin. It aims to transform the conversation around menstruation by providing workshops and education to young girls. The group has become a prominent player in Colombia’s political landscape, facilitating research and discussions on menstrual health. Through donations, the organization is expanding beyond Medellin to reach rural and urban areas. In 2019, Princesas Menstruantes reached 3,532 people, including men who were included in the dialogue.
The issue of period poverty continues to gain attention in international conversations, thereby altering the political landscape for good. Organizations tackling the issue are pushing for a world where girls and women have access to menstrual products and as a result, pursue educational and career success without limitations. And with more Latin American countries like Colombia taking action against period poverty, the world continues moving closer in that direction.
– Eva Cairns O’Donovan