Period poverty in Wallonia, a region in southern Belgium, is being addressed by the provision of 2.5 million sanitary pads to women who do not have the financial means to access this important product during their time of the month.
The government of Wallonia will work together with Femmes Prévoyantes Socialistes (FPS), a feminist movement, in this regard. They will invest 440,000 euros in a pilot project that will be implemented across the different provinces of the region, such as Namur, Hainaut, and Liège. It will begin in the next few weeks.
Christie Morreale, proudly announced on Twitter that “Wallonia is launching a vast pilot project to combat menstrual insecurity: from April, 2.5 million sanitary pads will be made available to women in precarious situations in these provinces and information will also be given.” She is the Minister of Employment, Training, Health, Social Action, Social Economy, Equal Opportunities, and Women’s Rights in the region of Wallonia.
What is Period Poverty?
Period poverty refers to the inability of women to access products, facilities for sanitation, and information related to their menstrual cycle.
As such, its scope is not just about obtaining menstrual pads and tampons. Rather, it covers anything and everything needed by women during their menstrual period. Medicine to manage pain, underwear, and any of the like.
These barriers to access are also not just limited to a lack of financial capabilities. It includes an unfavorable social, political, and cultural environment that hinders women from being able to obtain what they need.
Not Everyone can Afford Menstrual Pads in Belgium
Every month, women spend an average of 12 euros on purchasing menstrual pads. What may seem to be a small amount to some may not always be true for everyone else.
For the 350,000 Belgian women who live in poverty, spending that much money on personal hygiene can not be done as freely as they wish. Especially if purchasing such products puts them at risk of having little or nothing to eat for the day.
Morreale adds, “This cannot be a burden on a woman’s life, so we are going to help by proposing that pads be made available free of charge in planning centres, education centres, day shelters, night shelters, and from social services.”
How Many Cannot Afford Menstrual Products?
A federal feminist association, Synergie Wallonie pour l’Égalité entre les Femmes et les Hommes, conducted a survey about this concern. They were able to recruit 4,133 women for the study. Of that population, 30% admitted that they had challenges in purchasing menstrual products due to financial constraints.
However, among those who had this problem, the majority had chosen not to seek help from relevant organizations. Around one-eighth, or 4%, did otherwise. Many still feel that menstruation is not something to be voiced out because of the perception of society about it.
Furthermore, one in eight women, ages 12 to 15 years old, do not have the financial capacity to purchase menstrual pads or tampons. The number is much higher for those who live in poverty. 45% of them are unable to afford these products.
Consequences of Period Poverty
Without access to proper resources for menstrual health, women are at risk of many health, social, and economic consequences. Instead of using clean menstrual pads, they often make use of alternatives that cannot effectively and safely do the job. This includes rags, leaves, or newspapers.
Doing so may predispose them to infections in the urinary and genital tracts. Even worse, they can develop Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), which is a potentially fatal disease. It affects many bodily systems all at once. This leads to the development of a multitude of symptoms and complications.
At the same time, since the alternatives may not be as absorbent, women can experience period leaks. The bright red color stained on their clothing can add to the shame that they may already be feeling.
Women may also develop feelings of distress and discomfort because of period poverty. Not being able to care for themselves during a regular occurrence in their lives may negatively impact their mental well-being.
A study showed that as many as 68.1% of participants facing period poverty were mentally unwell. This was because they had symptoms pointing to moderate-to-severe depression.
Participation in Work and School
Being unable to obtain the necessary menstrual products also discourages women from participating at work or school. With no proper sanitary pads, they can experience not just period leakage, but also develop a strong odor coming from menstrual blood. Altogether, it makes going out of one’s home very uncomfortable.
As a result, women who cannot report to work lose their income for the day. Students are also absent from school, taking away opportunities to learn.
The Region of Wallonia Joins Scotland
Last year, Scotland became the very first country to provide free period products to all its citizens. The Period Products (Free Provision) Act 2021 does not distinguish between individuals of different socioeconomic classes. As such, anyone can access menstrual products without having to worry about its cost.
Even educational institutions were required to create the necessary arrangements so that students could easily get a menstrual product in the bathrooms.
At that time, Monica Lennon, a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), said, “periods should never be a barrier to education or push anyone into poverty. Women, girls and all people who menstruate deserve period dignity.”
Similarly, increasing access for women in Wallonia to sanitary pads is a step towards reducing period poverty. Women shouldn’t need to choose between their menstrual health and food, work, or school.