Menstrual health and hygiene unaffordable for poor girls and women in Latin America – Global Issues
CARACAS, May 26 (IPS) - This article is part of IPS coverage of Menstrual Hygiene Day, celebrated on 28 May. Menstrual hygiene management remains elusive for The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Bank have released a study showing that on any given day, more than 300 million women in Latin America lack access to menstrual hygiene products and adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene management (MHM). The study also found that nine of the 31 countries in the region consider menstrual products to be essential, which exempts them from value-added tax or lower VAT. Colombia became the first country in the Americas to eliminate VAT, while Colombia and Venezuela have also reduced VAT on menstrual products. The UNFPA's theme this year for International menstrual hygiene day is this 28 May, with the aim of “making menstruation a common fact of life by 2030” being observed every 28 May. According to the study, the aim for this day is to make it a target date for compliance Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Adopted by the international community at the United Nations.
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“When my period comes, I miss class for three or four days. My family is not able to buy the sanitary napkins needed by me and my sister. We use cloth for the blood, though they give me Gives an uncomfortable rash,” says Omaira*, a 15-year-old high school student.
From her low-income neighborhood of Brisas del Sur in Ciudad Guayana, 500 kilometers southeast of Caracas, she talks to IPS by phone: “We can’t even buy pills to ease my pain. And my periods are irregular. It’s not’ I don’t come every month, but there is no medical service here to go and treat me.
In Venezuela, “one in four women do not have access to menstrual hygiene products and improvise unhygienic alternatives such as old clothes, cloth, cardboard or toilet paper to make pads that act as sanitary napkins, With activist Natasha Saturno unitary action NGO tells IPS.
“The big problem with these reformulated products is that they can cause, at best, discomfort and embarrassment, and at worst, infections that can put their health at risk,” says Saturno, director of rights enforcement at the NGO that operates the health assistance and documentation program. compromise with.” and survey.
Is it a local, centralized problem? Not at all: “On any given day, more than 300 million women menstruate worldwide. Overall, an estimated 500 million lack access to menstrual products and adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene management (MHM). world BankStudy,
“Today more than ever we need to bring visibility on the situation of women and girls who do not have access and education about menstrual hygiene. Communication makes a difference,” said Hugo Gonzalez, representative of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Peru.
unfpa Says there is broad agreement on what girls and women need for good menstrual health, and argues that comprehensive approaches that combine education with infrastructure and products and efforts to tackle stigma can lead to good menstrual health and are most successful in achieving cleanliness.
The essential elements are: a safe, acceptable and reliable supply for the management of menstruation; privacy to change content; secure and private laundry facilities; and information to make appropriate decisions.
UNFPA’s theme this year for International menstrual hygiene dayWhich is observed every 28 May, with the aim of “making menstruation a common fact of life by 2030”, the target date for compliance Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Adopted by the international community at the United Nations.
According to the study, nine of the 31 countries in the region consider menstrual hygiene products to be essential, which exempts them from value-added tax or lower VAT. “The Sexist Tax in Latin America” ??by Germany Friedrich Ebert Foundation,
Following a “tax-free menstruation” campaign, in 2018 Colombia became the first country in the Americas to eliminate VAT — 16 percent — on menstrual hygiene products. Its neighbor Venezuela still charges a 16 percent VAT, and Argentina, Chile, the Dominican Republic and Uruguay charge VAT of between 18 and 22 percent on such products.
Colombia included Ecuador, Guyana, Jamaica, Mexico – where there were street demonstrations against the imposition of VAT on menstrual products – Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. Other countries have reduced VAT, such as Costa Rica, Panama, Paraguay and Peru, while in Brazil the VAT varies between states and averages 7 percent.
The so-called “pink tax” apparently affects the price of menstrual hygiene products such as disposable and reusable sanitary pads and menstrual cups, becoming a particularly burdensome burden in countries with high inflation and devalued currencies, such as Argentina and Venezuela. goes.
According to the average price of the cheapest brands, ten disposable sanitary pads can cost less than a dollar in Mexico, $1.50 in Argentina or Brazil, $1.60 in Colombia, Peru or Venezuela, and about $2 in Costa Rica.
“This is a significant problem,” explains Saturno, “in a country like Venezuela, where the majority of the population lives in poverty and the minimum wage – although it has been raised with some stipends – is still just five dollars a month.”
“If you can’t afford sanitary pads often, that’s the smallest of problems. Worst of all, you feel embarrassed if you go to work and the fabric fails to keep your clothes free of blood, or if you get an infection,” says Nancy*, 45. Many at age have worked in the informal sector in business and trade in Caracas, told IPS.
The mother of four youths lives in Gramoven, a poor neighborhood in the northwest of the capital. Her two unmarried daughters, ages 18 and 22, have had experiences similar to Nancy’s on their way to school, in the neighborhood, on the bus, and on the subway.
Nancy said, “The thing is that periods are not seen as natural, boys and men see it as something dirty, at work sometimes they don’t understand that if you’re in pain you should stay home.” Will happen.” “And when you work for yourself, you have to go out no matter what, because if you don’t go out, no money comes in.”
Saturno states that “poverty causes women and adolescent girls to miss days of secondary school or work because they do not have the supplies they need during menstruation.”
“It becomes a vicious cycle, as their academic or work performance suffers, hindering their chances of developing to their full potential and earning a better income,” she adds.
But the problem “goes far beyond content, it doesn’t end simply because someone receives a product; it includes education and good working conditions for women,” says psychologist Carolina Ramirez, who runs the educational NGO menstruating princesses In the Colombian city of Medellin, states IPS.
For this reason, “we do not use the term ‘menstrual poverty’ and speak instead of the dignity of menstruation, promoting education about menstruation and combating illiteracy in that area through society, schools, workplaces and states affirm the need,” Ramirez says.
To illustrate, she mentions the widespread disapproval of using tampons and cups “because of the age-old taboo that the vulva should not be touched, that the vulva should not be seen,” in addition to the fact that many regions and communities Latin American countries in the U.S. not only lack places or equipment to disinfect products, but often do not have clean water either.
One concern raised by both Saturno and Ramirez is the greater vulnerability of migrant women in the region—which has seen an influx of six million people from Venezuela over the past 10 years, for example—to menstruation and general health as well as security.
Another worrying issue is women in most Latin American prisons, who are unable to provide adequate menstrual hygiene, as they do not have access to disposable products or the possibility to disinfect reusable supplies.
Across the region, “more efforts are needed to break down taboos that violate fundamental rights to health, education, work, and freedom of movement, so that menstruation can be a stress-free human experience,” Ramirez says.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the interviewees.