by Vandana M Kissoon
What is ‘Period Poverty?
‘Period Poverty’ describes the struggle faced by menstruating persons when they are unable to afford safe and hygienic-sanitary products. ‘Period Poverty’ encompasses not only the limited access to menstrual products due to financial constraints but also inadequate access to proper healthcare, water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in order to maintain a safe menstrual cycle and the availability of Comprehensive Sexuality Education promoting menstrual health education. According to UNICEF, 2.3 billion menstruating persons lack basic sanitation services globally and in less developed countries, only 27 per cent of the population has access to proper hand washing facilities at home.
Menstruation and menstrual equity are inherently related to human dignity and human rights. The inability to maintain a safe and hygienic menstrual cycle prevents menstruating persons from bleeding with dignity. This results in heightened vulnerability, social exclusion and physical health risk which directly infringes on their basic human rights.
The onset of the Covid-19 Pandemic has only further exacerbated the hardships that menstruating persons face in accessing safe menstrual products and healthcare. In 2016, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago issued a Value Added Tax Order which exempted items such as tampons and sanitary pads from being taxed. However, a decline in income and increased economic challenges have left families struggling to adequately afford monthly household expenses. For several families, especially the ones who have to bear the cost of multiple people who menstruate, this means that purchasing safe period supplies is placed on the back burner prioritizing the need for other essential items such as food, medication and household bills. Under those circumstances, menstruating persons are forced to resort to using alternative period products. These unsafe and less hygienic methods to manage menstruation may pose significant health risks such as fungal and bacterial infections.
At Feminitt, we recognize that there are many people in Trinidad and Tobago who experience period poverty from low socio-economic backgrounds and that there is a need to provide knowledge and resources to counteract these issues.
Pictured by Brainstorm Branding.
The Safe Cycle Project
The Safe Cycle project was launched to promote education, menstrual equity and debunking myths and stigmas attached to menstruation to end period poverty. Advocating for the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services to distribute 150 period cards to 150 families from low socio-economic backgrounds by providing data assessing the rate of period poverty in Trinidad and Tobago as well as the introduction of proper Comprehensive Sexuality Education in schools. The Safe Cycle project was divided into three phases: Menstrual Health Education, Service Delivery and the Safe Cycle Report.
Menstrual Health Education: Guided by Sexual and Reproductive Health experts and workers, this phase intended to bring awareness and relate information on menstrual health and the importance of menstrual equity. In collaboration with the Caribbean Feminist and The Lily Pads Project, our team at Feminitt was able to coordinate social media campaigns in conjunction with hosting live conversations encouraging the engagement of men and boys.
Service Delivery: Due to the kind generosity of our donors, the Safe Cycle team were able to provide 120-period kits. Surpassing our initial quantity of 100 boxes. These packages contained cotton underwear, tampons, sanitary pads, panty liners, recyclable period pads by The Lily Pads Project and a period tracker and journal. They were distributed with the help of members of the Safe Cycle team together with a national courier service.
Pictured by Brainstorm Branding. All participants reviewed and consented to photo.
Safe Cycle Report: The Safe Cycle team was able to produce a survey that was distributed utilizing the use of social media in conjunction with service delivery end-users. This was in an effort to produce a comprehensive report to aid in advocating for the implementation of Period Cards, a Women’s Health Hotline and a Comprehensive Sexuality Education curriculum. We were also able to finance menstruating persons with visits to a gynecologist, helping them develop and maintain a regime to ensure a safe menstrual cycle.
In addition to these phases, the IAmClean Campaign was conducted together with a Twitter Chat which encouraged people who menstruate to share their personal stories and experiences.
Period Poverty is a very real challenge that many face and the impact it has on the lives of persons who menstruate, their ability to be themselves, and their self-esteem can be truly devastating. Ending period poverty must be a collaborative effort between governmental and civil society organizations to promote activism and dialogue around menstrual health and period poverty. These efforts would ensure that persons who menstruate would be provided with a safe and hygienic menstrual cycle.
Ending period poverty will be a good step towards building a safe and just future. Periods do not stop for pandemics. We must keep pushing for better.
FAST FACTS: Nine things you didn't know about menstruation. (2021). Retrieved 3 July 2021, from https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/fast-facts-nine-things-you-didnt-know-about-menstruation
Feminitt Caribbean. 2021. Safe Cycle Report: Ensuring a Safe Menstrual Cycle and Menstrual Equity. Trinidad and Tobago: Feminitt Caribbean.
Vandana M Kissoon is the holder of an LLB (hons) and is currently pursuing her LPC. She is an animal lover and coffee enthusiast. Vandana is a writer at Feminitt Caribbean and is passionate about dismantling oppressive systems