Having access to menstrual products is essential to a woman’s life. Lacking these products can interrupt women’s daily schedules, including their education and work. As Venezuela’s economy declines, many Venezuelan women are unable to afford feminine products. Period poverty in Venezuela is now a challenge that women must overcome by creating alternative menstrual products.
Venezuela’s Inflation Crisis
Two decades ago, Venezuela took pride in being Latin America’s richest economy, boasting the world’s largest oil reserves. However, the past two governments’ corruption, mismanagement and debts have led Venezuela’s economy to fall apart, causing many companies to stop working and leading to hyperinflation and shortages of many products and basic services.
Feminine hygiene products did not escape this economic crisis. Today, these products are so expensive that many women cannot afford them. Two packs of pads can consume up to a third of a women’s minimum salary, according to a 2018 source. Plafam, an association for family planning in Venezuela, stated that 90% of medicine and healthcare products are in shortage. Many women cannot afford to spend their salary on menstrual products when they also need to buy other essentials. Forced to choose between food or tampons, many women are looking for other affordable options.
Creative Solutions to Period Poverty
In an interview with Voice of America, a young woman named Desiree Rodriguez said that instead of pads, she uses pieces cut from old sheets of cotton and plastic bags. Other women are using similar methods to tackle period poverty in Venezuela. Raquel Pérez said that she can buy either pads for herself or diapers for her children; she chooses to buy diapers and handcraft her own pads.
VICE interviewed women in Venezuela who invented similar ways to deal with menstruation. America Villegas, a past vice-chancellor of the National Experimental University of the Arts, is making her own pads. In 2016, Villegas decided to quit using the low-quality pads that were — and still are — flowing on the market. “They gave me horrible irritation and allergies,” Villegas said.
With her teenage daughter and mother, Villegas began creating ecological pads made of fabric, cotton and plastic, which she sells through MercadoLibre, an online marketplace. Her pads are washable and reusable. Despite a myth that reusable pads are bad for women’s health, according to Women’s Health Magazine, they are safe if cleaned correctly. However, many Venezuelan families lack access to clean water, soap or detergent.
Lahaie Luna Lezama
Three young women decided to tackle period poverty in Venezuela in another way. In 2018, Marianne Lahaie Luna, Véronique Lahaie Luna and Rosana Lezama founded Lahaie Luna Lezama, an NGO dedicated to improving access to menstrual products and rights in Venezuela.
These women partnered with Plafam to distribute an alternative to pads: the menstrual cup. Because of taboo and myths around menstruation in Venezuela, most women are disinclined to use tampons or products like a menstrual cup. But with proper education about women’s health and the sustainable use of menstrual cups — which women can use for up to seven years — women in Venezuela are now using these products as another solution to period poverty.
In 2019, Lahaie Luna Lezama started collaborating with a Colombian organization called CEPAZ, reaching out to Venezuelan women who migrated to Colombia. Because of their uncertain legal status, these women are prone to sexual exploitation and solicitation, lower-wage jobs and poverty. Lahaie Luna Lezama distributed around 400 menstrual and sexual kits to these women, as well as many women in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas.
Period Poverty in Venezuela causes a great deal of distress. The government has not adequately addressed the importance of menstrual and sexual products. The lack of these products obstructs Venezuelan women’s education and work. Innovative women are introducing creative, handcrafted and sustainable solutions to period poverty in Venezuela, but widespread change is necessary to improve the lives of women who cannot afford traditional menstrual products.
– Alannys Milano