Period Poverty in Sri Lanka
Located off the southern coast of India, Sri Lanka is home to almost 22 million people, 52% of whom are female. Despite its small geographic size, the country ranks 73 on the Gender Inequality Index, but behind that figure stands a monthly challenge for the nearly 12 million women and girls – having their period. This article will explore period poverty in Sri Lanka as well as three initiatives aiming to combat it.

What is Period Poverty?

Period poverty refers to the lack of education on menstruation, as well as having little to no access to essential sanitation for basic hygiene during the menstruation period. These factors frequently result in social stigmas that exclude women from basic activities, such as attending school or work and can lead to physical health risks. Period poverty in Sri Lanka takes the form of association with the impurity of the body. The subject is taboo, creating a culture of fear and misinformation. In a survey from 2015, 66% of girls were unaware they were going to have a period until their first one occurred. When they did have their period, more than a third of the girls reported missing one or two days of school to avoid embarrassment and stigma. However, over the past decades, three initiatives to eliminate period poverty in Sri Lanka have emerged.

3 Initiatives to Eliminate Period Poverty in Sri Lanka

  1. Sinidu: A new, local and affordable pad has entered the market. Inspired by the Indian social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham’s low-cost pad-making machine and funded by the SAARC Chamber Women Entrepreneurs Council (SCWEC), Sinidu, an organic pad, sells in Sri Lanka at a third of the cost of competitors. A pack of 10 imported pads costs upwards of R.s, 200-250, and commercially-produced pads are not much better at R.s. 150-200. The national minimum wage of Sri Lanka is R.s. 10,000. Given that the average woman uses 20 pads per month, or spend about R.s. 400, they spend about 4% of their salary on the necessity. For comparison, the average household expenditure on meat is 4.8%. At R.s 60 per packet, Sinidu has decreased expenditures related to pads to 1.2%.
  2. Reduced Taxes on Sanitary Products: Taxes on sanitary napkins has significantly decreased. Until 2018, sanitary napkins received a tax of 101.2% of their sales price. For low-income Sri Lankans, the tax significantly impacted their ability to afford the napkins. Only 30% of Sri Lankan women could afford to use sanitary napkins, meaning 70% of women had to use cloth, which, when not sanitized properly, can lead to health risks such as reproductive and urinary tract infections. However, after the social media outrage in September 2018, the Minister of Finance repealed the 30% import tax.
  3. Free Sanitary Napkins: Awareness of women’s rights issues – including addressing period poverty – is increasing. During the 2019 presidential election, presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa attempted to win over women voters by promising free sanitary napkins to all women and girls. Though he faced criticism and the country ultimately did not elect him, he successfully called attention to the issue of period poverty in Sri Lanka.

Period poverty in Sri Lanka remains a challenge. However, through these three advancements, access to sanitary napkins in Sri Lanka has improved.

– Charlotte Ehlers
Photo: Flickr

Women's Health in IndiaOn Feb. 9, 2018, the Bollywood movie “Padman” was released to the largest film market in the world. “Padman” is exactly what it sounds like: a film about a man who creates pads. The Bollywood film chronicles the true story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, India’s pioneer of a revolutionary method of producing cost-effective sanitary pads for women and girls across the country.

The film is more than just a story about someone with a good idea; it is also challenging the stigma that surrounds menstruation and women’s health in India. “Period Poverty” is a global phenomenon that describes a woman’s inability to buy proper feminine hygiene products. In India in particular, the effects of period poverty hinder many girls’ abilities to stay in school. In India, one in four girls miss one day or more of school due to menstruation.

In lower and middle income countries, poor sanitation facilities are one thing that keep girls from attending school while on their period. Many schools in lower income countries also do not have the puberty education necessary to educate girls about menstruation. A recent study found that 71 percent of girls in India have no knowledge about menstruation prior to their first period.

Most cultures around the world also have a major stigma surrounding menstruation. In India in particular, a lot of taboo surrounds the topic of periods and women’s health in general. Restrictions for women on their period include not being able to enter religious shrines or come into contact with food, further keeping girls from school. Many girls are nervous about asking for help in the event of stained clothing due to improper feminine hygiene care.

Another thing keeping women from proper feminine hygiene care is cost. Until recently, 70 percent of Indian women could not afford to buy pads for their family. Instead, families resorted to using and reusing rags which quickly become unsanitary as breeding grounds for disease. In rural areas, materials other than rags were often used like sawdust or ash.

There are currently many NGOs operating around the world with the goal of creating affordable solutions for women suffering from period poverty. Many of these organizations are dedicated to solving issues of women’s health in India.

Innovator Arunachalam Muruganantham has created a machine that makes sanitary pads that are sold mostly to NGOs along with women’s self-help groups. The machine comes in two different types, a manual version and a semi-automated version. Each machine can make 200 to 250 pads a day and is designed to be user-friendly for women living in rural areas.

The pads sell for about 2.5 rupees, almost half of what it would be to buy them commercially. This system not only provides proper sanitary products for women, but also creates jobs for women living in rural areas as they learn how to use and operate the machine. Muruganatham has expanded his efforts well beyond India and is now working in 106 countries around the world.

An organization created in 2008 called Days for Girls is dedicated to improving women’s health around the world. The organization aims to provide girls with invaluable health education and provide its recipients with a Days for Girls kit. Each kit contains sanitary napkins, washcloths, soap, a menstrual chart and underwear. This is just one example of the many organizations fighting to end the stigma surrounding periods.

India is the largest film market in the world, with 2.2 billion movie tickets sold in 2016. Hopefully, the recent film, “Padman,” will reach a wide variety of audiences and bring more attention to issue of women’s health in India.

– Sonja Flancher

Photo: Flickr