BEIRUT: In an aim to tackle period poverty, the stigma around menstruation, and the impact that periods have on education, talks about the provision of free tampons and pads have emerged.
Two months ago, Scotland became the first nation to walk the talk.
This comes as several countries still tax feminine hygiene products as luxury items. The Scottish Parliament decided to abolish this levy and approved a plan to make menstrual products freely available in public spaces such as community centers, pharmacies, and youth clubs.
Before passing the bill, nearly 10 percent of girls in Britain were unable to afford period products, and 19 percent resorted to using substitutes like rags, newspapers, and toilet paper because of the high cost, according to a 2017 survey by Plan International UK, a girls' rights charity.
The survey also found that 48 percent of girls aged 14 to 21 were embarrassed by their periods, while 49 percent had missed an entire day of school because of them.
Gaël Abou Ghannam, MD, obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN) and infertility specialist, said that the issue is not limited to the UK only but also applies to other parts of the world.
In Lebanon, the price of a box of pads ranges between $2 to $6, while that of a box of tampons is between $4 to $10.
"It might seem like little money, but when you think that women menstruate for around 35 years and will buy at least a box per month, the amount adds up," Abou Ghannam told Annahar's NAYA. "Periods' cost is even higher since you might need to calculate as well the ruined pairs of underwear due to period leakage and the pain killers bought regularly."
In this context, Abou Ghannam pointed out that women coming from underprivileged communities won't spend this amount of money on sexual healthcare; they would rather spend it on food, shelter, and other necessities of life.
This, however, can have serious consequences for sexual health.
“Women who don’t have access to hygiene products either use the same protection for too long, which leads to infections, irritations, and discomfort, or don't use any protection at all – or just a simple tissue, which is equally bad," Abou Ghannam noted, adding that all of this does nothing but reinforces the shame associated with menstruation.
Period poverty in Lebanon: What's the solution?
"Realistically speaking, the Lebanese government won't be able to provide pads and tampons for free, particularly that the country is in a dire economic situation," Abou Ghannam said. "But it doesn't mean that the matter shouldn't be taken seriously by the ministry of health."
"In this case, we need to educate females about the importance of using sanitary products properly to decrease the aforementioned complications," she added.
Further, she suggested the use of period cups or menstrual underwear as alternatives to pads and tampons.
"These solutions are cheaper in the long run," she pointed out. "They're eco-friendly since they're reusable and healthier because most of the disposable feminine hygiene products are full of chemicals."
Period taboo: Why can't we talk about menstruation?
From "Aunt Rose is visiting" to "time of the month," women often tend to avoid using the word "period." The subject is considered a taboo to most of them and talking about it is so difficult.
The reason is linked to several factors. For instance, Abou Ghannam explained that the fact that women have hormonal cycles and painful periods had been most of the time used in justifying why they can’t be in power.
'Women can't control their hormones and emotions," they say. As if menstruation came as the perfect excuse to discredit a woman," Abou Ghannam noted.
"Yes, the taboo is real. Even women themselves are ashamed of periods. They don’t talk about it and use nicknames to refer to it. They stop doing certain activities when they're having their periods, including but not limited to sexual intercourse, although medically speaking, it is totally 'okay' to have sex during menstruation and even advised in case of severe pain," she added.
On the same note, Abou Ghannam emphasized the importance of sexual education in schools and at homes.
"Young people should have access to information related to sexual health and are entitled to learn about themselves," Abou Ghannam noted. "These topics must be taught before or at the age of puberty. Schools should play a major role in breaking the taboos and installing a positive attitude towards women’s health in general."
Sexual healthcare: How important is it?
"It is of great importance!" Abou Ghannam exclaimed. "Sexual health is part of general health and it's not something to be ashamed of."
About Ghannam continued to ask, "How come a woman knows everything about how to take care of her skin, hair, and entire body but is not able to place a mirror and look at her sexual organs without feeling awkward?"
Welcome to “NAYA," the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. NAYA is devoted to women of all generations-NAYA Editor, Sally Farhat: [email protected]
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