Approximately 500 million people worldwide lack access to basic period products and hygiene facilities. While in many societies, a girl’s first period symbolizes the beginning of womanhood, for Belizean women, it marks the start of decades of hardship. Social taboos and the limited availability of period products and hygiene facilities lead to mental, emotional and physical challenges for menstruating individuals. However, both individuals and organizations are actively working to tackle period poverty in Belize.
UNICEF Menstrual Health Management Study
Period poverty in Belize has far-reaching effects on women beyond their use of sanitary pads. In 2018, UNICEF Belize and the national WASH technical working group conducted interviews with school girls aged 10-14 years to understand the challenges they face during menstruation. The study identified five factors affecting school girls in Belize: biological, personal, interpersonal, environmental and societal.
The study also debunked many misconceptions the school girls had about menstruation. Some believed there were specific foods they couldn’t eat during their period, while others thought menstruation was linked to HIV/AIDS. Several girls falsely believed that women were possessed by demons during menstruation and that they could get pregnant just by touching a boy. Consequently, many girls reported feeling anxiety and shame while menstruating.
Furthermore, the study revealed that Belizean girls experienced regular bullying and different treatment from boys once they started menstruating. Many also reported that their mothers allowed them less playtime and assigned more chores while repeatedly warning them to avoid boys.
The prevalent misconceptions and stigmas in Belizean cultures have a profound negative impact on women of all ages who menstruate. Due to a lack of access to proper education about menstruation, many women in Belize are likely to develop insecurities and face mental health issues.
Accessibility to Basic Period Services
Period poverty in Belize has both internal and external effects on women. UNICEF’s findings revealed that 30% of female bathrooms lacked soap, and 40% of them lacked toilet paper. Even fewer bathrooms provided proper menstrual product disposal options. Additionally, 30% of Belizean schools have one toilet per 25 girls, meeting just the international standard.
The inadequate restroom facilities contribute to improper menstrual hygiene management, leading to health issues like reproductive and urinary tract infections, as reported by the World Bank.
Furthermore, Belizean restroom facilities often lack basic menstrual products, and stores in certain regions sell them at unaffordable prices. Due to this price inflation and limited access to menstrual products, period poverty in Belize continues to persist.
UNICEF Belize continues its advocacy efforts for improved restroom facilities, safer menstrual disposal systems and hygiene awareness among menstruating girls and women. In Jan. 2023, Seidi Quetzal, a 28-year-old Belizean student, initiated the “Don’t Tax My Femininity Campaign.” She lobbied against the 20% importation tax, 3% environmental tax and 12.5% Goods and Services Tax on female sanitary products, arguing that these taxes pose financial barriers to women, both employed and unemployed, making basic sanitary products unaffordable.
Responding to public pressure, on March 10, 2023, Belizean Prime Minister, Hon. John Briceño, announced the removal of all taxes on female sanitary products, effective from April 1, 2023. This marked a significant step in the fight to end period poverty in Belize.
While period poverty remains a concern in Belize, local activists and organizations are working diligently to address the issue and prioritize the well-being of girls and women in the country.
– Marina Blatt