Period poverty is considered the lack of access of people who menstruate to basic products required for good hygiene during their menstrual period. This isn't limited to lack of money to buy menstrual hygiene products, but it is also related to the lack or limited access to infrastructure in the environment that they live in, including access to bathrooms, water, and sanitation. Menstrual hygiene is a human right recognized by the United Nations (UN) since 2014, however it is far from being a reality.
Yasmin Emiliano, who is 24 years old, mother of two children and a resident of the occupation in the center of Belo Horizonte commented that “I have gone without (pads), so I used toilet paper. Many times I would stay home to not have to use anything, and there have been times where I was without toilet paper. It's a very complicated situation.”
The situation in Brazil is alarming. According to a report, livre para menstruar, made by the Girl Up movement, 1 in every 4 girls don't have access to pads during their menstrual periods. The report made by UNICEF called “Pobreza Menstrual no Brasil - Desigualdades e violações de direitos” states that around 321 thousand students, 3% of all girls in schools, study where there is no bathroom that is adequate for use. The report further highlights that, in Brazil, 1.24 million girls (11.6%) don't have access to toilet paper in the school’s bathrooms. Out of that number, 66.1% of them are black or ‘pardas’. The estimate of what someone has to spend during their fertile lives to buy disposable menstrual products is around R$6,000.
The lack of access to menstrual products can lead to missing work or school and even to using alternatives such as, the soft part of bread, old clothes and newspaper, which can be a hazard to their health. Some people that are able to buy or are donated pads usually do not receive them in a sufficient quantity for their flux, leading them to use the same pad for hours or even days, which also has its health concerns.
This is a recurrent and old problem, although recently the topic came back into the spotlight when president Jair Bolsonaro went against the promotion of women’s health and vetoed the Program of distribution of Sanitary Pads. This program was planned to freely distribute sanitary pads as well as offering the basic necessities in relation to menstrual health in public high school’s and in the last years of middle school. The project would also reach homeless people, people in the prison system and other people who menstruate and are in states of social vulnerability. Bolsonaro argued that his veto was due to the fact that the congress did not state where the funding would be gotten from. He continued stating that if the congress goes against his measure he will accept the measure but that the pads will not be free. The veto generated a large wave of criticisms.
The final say will be up to the congress to decide . The president of the Brazilian Senate, Rodrigo Pacheco, said that he didn't accept the government’s argument of lack of resources. “In Brazil, so much money is spent on countless futilities. It cannot be that young women from poor backgrounds with fundamental needs have to go empty-handed”, read a statement on the conservative politician’s website. There is the belief that there is a strong chance that the Congress will be able to overturn the veto. The need to re-examine the funding of the project is still present, however, Pacheco claims that there must be ways to provide the necessary period products for the ones in need.
While this fight is happening at the federal level. In certain states there have been measures that have been introduced as a way to try and improve low income menstruating people. For example João Doria, governor of the state of São Paulo, introduced the “Dignidade Intima” in June with a calculated investment of R$ 30 millions for the distribution of menstrual products to students in public schools under the administration of the state.
As well as initiatives in the public sector, there have been a surge of NGOs that work to help the menstrual hygiene conditions of people affected by period poverty. An example of that is Projeto Luna (@projetolunaoficial). The founder and president of Projeto Luna, Victoria Dezembro had recently returned to Brazil after studying in Italy when the Covid-19 pandemic started. She started the project by going to the supermarket with her boyfriend and buying pads, toilet paper, toothbrushes and toothpaste and handing the materials brought to the NGO Anjos da Caridade. After repeating this process for several weeks Dezembro decided to go more in depth into the cause and start her own NGO. She adds that “We work in shelters, helping people that are homeless and that live in affordable housing. We intend to expand into other places where there are menstruating people in vulnerable situations such as prisons and orphanages.” The project has already distributed 466 kits and 13,080 pads.
Period poverty is a long lasting issue, however with the implementation of public policies and the help from NGOs a better and more equal society can start to appear on the horizon. Everyone that menstruates should be able to have access to menstrual hygiene products, no matter what their background is.
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