In Spain there are thousands of women who they cannot afford intimate hygiene products and have to resort to socks, towels, pieces of cardboard, cut out diapers or toilet paper when they have their period, which impacts their physical and mental health. It is the menstrual poverty, a lack derived from economic poverty that has the face of a woman and which has only begun to be talked about as a result of the pandemic.
“Menstrual poverty is the lack of economic resources suffered by those women who have to decide between buying flour, rice or pasta or buying products for their menstrual hygiene. It is a derivative of economic poverty,” she explains to THE PERIODIC OF SPAIN Ana Enrich, director of Period Spain, an association born during confinement to eradicate poverty and menstrual stigma.
An economic grievance
Women have to cope with menstruation month after month for 35 or 40 years of their life. Tampons, pads, menstrual cups and other intimate hygiene products are expensive, continue to be taxed at 10%: despite the fact that the Government committed itself in its coalition agreement to reduce this VAT, one more year this point has been left out of your budget bill.
In Spain, more than 20% of citizens are at risk of poverty and more than 12% in a situation of severe material shortage. For these women, feminine hygiene products are a luxury that is not available to them.
“We forget this when we serve people in vulnerable situations in a soup kitchen or in a food bank: many necessary products are given but we forget to distribute tampons and pads, which are equally important. necessary“Enrich stresses. gender variable contributes to their invisibility.
Faced with the impossibility of buying these products, many girls and adult women are forced to resort to unhealthy alternatives such as using a compress for three days, socks, cardboard, towels, diapers or pieces cut from diapers of babies or dependent people to collect menstruation blood.
Consequences for health
Menstrual poverty, explains the director of Period Spain, has physical and psychological consequences. Using these tricks causes vaginal and urinary infections and feelings of humiliation and shame, reduced self-esteem and increased anxiety. Some girls they stop going to class when they have their period. Homeless women do not have access to toilets.
Enrich emphasizes that the consequences of this menstrual poverty have an impact in turn on the health system, a matter of more for administrations to begin to put solutions to the problem, which began to become evident as a result of the social and health crisis: “The pandemic has highlighted this problem that we did not know existed “.
Other countries have an advantage: in Scotland all public buildings manage these products for free, in New Zealand they are divided into institutes in deprived areas, in the United Kingdom the VAT rate was eliminated and Ireland has promised to do so in 2022, while France and Germany have also lowered it.
In Spain, at the institutional level there are several initiatives that have been debated in recent months to address menstrual poverty: the Congress of Deputies approved in summer a non-law proposal asking the Government to reduce VAT of intimate hygiene products and the Senate has given the green light this week to a motion in which the Executive is asked to work together with the rest of the administrations to end menstrual poverty.
“Women do not decide to have menstruation, is innate in us because we are women. (…) It is a natural process that involves a economic grievance for more than 50% of the population “, asserted the senator who defended this motion, Elisenda Pérez (ERC), who criticized that essential items continue to be considered as luxury products.
In the Valencian Courts there is a popular legislative initiative for the gratuity of these articles and the Madrid Assembly debated (and rejected) the implementation of a Comprehensive Menstrual Health Plan proposed by Más Madrid for, among other measures, the free provision of hygiene products in public centers, the preparation of a study on menstrual poverty, guaranteeing access to public toilets for vulnerable women and the inclusion of content related to menstrual health in all educational cycles.
The head of Mujer de Más Madrid and regional deputy Loreto Arenillas, who defended this proposal in the Assembly, criticizes in conversation with THE PERIODIC OF SPAIN that the political class has systematically ignored the reality of menstruation, “a basic issue” that has been invisible and stigmatized and whose economic, cultural, environmental and psycho-emotional aspects have been overlooked. The question underlying this historical look the other way is that the rule only affects women.
“We differentiate types of poverty, that’s why we talk about energy poverty and nobody questions it. Why then is menstrual poverty questioned? It is a macho reasoning“, asserts Arenillas.
A taboo subject
The regional deputy recalls how other deputies of the Assembly lowered their eyes during the debate of her proposal when she took out a compress: “It was truly sultry. It was the most shameful debate in the world, it didn’t go ahead because they were ashamed. ”
The rule remains a Taboo subject in all socio-cultural strata and there is great ignorance about its implications on health and its economic and psychological impact. To show, the effect that the COVID-19 vaccine has had on women’s menstrual cycles. Both Arenillas and Enrich request that the magnitude of menstrual poverty be studied in depth.
The first step forward, they agree, is speak naturally of menstruation and conduct statewide research.
The director of Period Spain indicates that menstrual poverty is fought with awareness campaigns that contribute to ending the shame around the period, with the reduction of VAT on intimate hygiene products and guaranteeing that vulnerable groups can obtain them for free in public spaces. The municipalities of Sant Cugat and Sant Quirze have been distributing these items during the pandemic.
“It is a matter of Health universal, social justice and citizen responsibility“, he emphasizes.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.