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Women products are a basic human necessity

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With Jenna Cocullo:

I will never forget the first time my best friend got her first period. It was at school and the stain would soon show through her pants.

She was horrified and did not know what to do. None of the girls carried around sanitary napkins because most of us were still too young to experience puberty; talking to a teacher about it was embarrassing for a young girl who was taught by society to always behave like a lady and never speak about such things; and we had an important history lesson that day, which she did not want to miss. So leaving school earlier was not an option either.

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Instead, she just sat in class all day with a sweatshirt wrapped around her waist to hide the stain, until the school bell rang and she could go home. What always bothered me about that story was the fact that my friend had to sit there in her own blood all day without any mechanism for taking proper care of her period.

We as a society, we ensure that there is toilet paper provided in bathrooms, so people can wipe up their bottoms once they are finished with their business. But for some sexist reason, we do not afford these considerations to girls and women. Especially young girls who have no monetary means of obtaining the necessary materials clean up their bodily fluids.

It is time more countries start treating tampons and pads like products that are a very basic necessity for the health of women and for their education. In 2004, Kenya was the first nation to stop taxing menstrual products, because millions of young girls and women could not afford these products. Canada dropped the tax in 2015, and Malaysia, India and Australia followed suit this year.

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In the United States, only 10 states have eliminated the tax, Nevada being the most recent one who took this step last month. But saving pennies of taxes on the dollar might not provide real economic relief to some, which is why Kenya not only eliminated the tax but also budgeted the equivalent of $3 million USD per year, in 2011, to distribute free sanitary pads in schools in low-income communities. Menstrual hygiene products should be changed on average every four to six hours depending on the product.

When women cannot afford menstrual products they use their pads, tampons or menstrual cups, for as long as they could a thing which could easily cause bacteria to grow and infect their body. When these products are not available, the alternatives women and girls use can be extremely detrimental to their health such as old rags and leaves. This can lead to embarrassment if they begin to leak through their clothing because we are taught that periods are dirty as opposed to a natural bodily function such as peeing.

One Malawian teacher told me the fear of embarrassment is so bad that some female students miss up to four school days of school per month. That is the equivalent of missing nine to ten weeks of school per year. So why aren’t these products (that can help keep girls in school), being offered? Is it because society does not value girls’ education as much as boys? If men got their periods would there be free tampons and pads in every washroom on the globe? Probably.

As usual the real problem lies in the fact that women’s experiences aren’t reflected in our laws because not enough women are at the decision-making table.

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