Period poverty in Malaysia has caused a wide health gap for its lower-income families, but recent action by local organizations and legislation has sought to bring change.
Period poverty describes the inaccessibility of menstruation products and washing facilities to those who menstruate, often resulting in missing school days and job opportunities. More than 500 million women and girls face period poverty across the globe each month. While there are no exact statistics on how many people experience period poverty in Malaysia, organizations such as the NGO MyCorps Alumni and All Women’s Action Society have stepped up to tackle the problem and help those in need.
Accessibility to Supplies
For those who cannot afford the cost of menstruation products every month, many turn to using alternate methods that can pose harm. Malaysia’s National Population and Development Board reported that lower-income women may use coconut husks or newspapers for their periods. Local organizations have stepped up to tackle period poverty in Malaysia in order to supply sanitary products to all who need them.
The Malaysian NGO MyCorps Alumni created the Bunga Pads initiative in July 2019, creating a program to provide sanitary pads to lower-income female students. Fitriyati Bakri, the creator of the initiative, received inspiration from a trip to Bangladesh where she spoke with a few school girls and learned of their struggles attending school while they had their periods. Bakri created a program for Bangladeshi women by teaching them how to make reusable pads and brought it back to Malaysia when she realized how prominent the issue was in lower-income communities. The pads comprise environmentally friendly bamboo material and can last a person 3-5 years of use.
Malaysia’s Movement Control Order to help contain the COVID-19 outbreak has increased the difficulty of women and girls attaining the products that they need. Restrictions consist of limited travel and only leaving for essential items, of which sanitary pads are not included.
The All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) of Malaysia set out to provide much-needed sanitary products to women who were unable to obtain them due to restricted movement. AWAM emerged as a women’s rights organization, educating and providing resources for women’s health, domestic violence and sexual harassment.
Kotex Malaysia donated more than 500 pads to AWAM for its 35-year anniversary dinner. Though the dinner was canceled due to COVID-19, AWAM was able to distribute the pads in the Dun Kampung Tunku. These pads will allow increased mobility to those unable to acquire them as essential items.
An additional obstacle to period justice in Malaysia is the taxation on menstruation products. The added cost makes it more difficult for lower-income women to buy them.
The Malaysian government removed the tax on menstrual products such as tampons and sanitary napkins on June 1, 2018. The tax on period products in Malaysia came into effect in 2015 but met with some online backlash from girls and women across the country insisting the tax would reduce accessibility to low-income households.
Malaysia joins multiple countries that have recently repealed their taxes on menstruation products, including Australia, along with India and Canada. Scotland recently became the first country in the world to provide free period products for the country. The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill passed on Nov. 24, 2020, ensuring that schools, universities and local authorities must provide period products to those who need them.
Although Malaysia has not passed a similar bill, lawmakers in the country are calling on their government to provide research into period poverty within the nation. Hannah Yeoh, Deputy of the Women, Family and Community Ministry, called on the Education Ministry to research how period poverty affects women and girls’ education and health in November 2019.
While Malaysia still has some ways to go regarding period poverty, it has made strides towards period justice at both the local and legislative levels.
– June Noyes