In February 2023, Senator Gloria Orwoba was suspended from Senate proceedings for an apparent period stain. She noticed the stain when walking into the building and decided not to clean it to advocate against period shame. She has since come under fire for “disrespect.” The stunt left many reeling but also brought back the conversation about period poverty.
Senator Orwoba addressed the press after being evicted from the grounds and went to distribute sanitation products to schools in Nairobi. The senator also supports a motion to increase government funding for free sanitary products in all public schools. According to the senator, the government currently provides up to seven packets yearly, while many girls and women use two packets a month, depending on their flow. She has also questioned the government’s ability to provide free condoms to every public tertiary institution while failing to provide pads for girls.
Period poverty is the inability of young girls and women in low-income communities to afford sanitation products. Due to the burden these women face, they cannot attend work or school. Studies show it has also led to vulnerable women engaging in transactional sex to afford menstrual products. In addition to providing free menstruation products in public schools, there are calls for the government to make all menstrual sanitation products subsidised. Kenya has a Menstrual Hygiene Management Policy whose main role is mainstreaming menstrual rights.
But, apart from making menstrual products accessible, what more can the Kenyan government do for period health?
Progressive period laws around the world
1. Paid menstrual leave
In Japan in 1947, they implemented the Labour Standards Law, which says that women who suffer from extreme period pain get unpaid time off. It was among the first nations to apply a menstrual leave policy. It was enacted due to the inability of public institutions to provide sanitation products for the booming female workforce after the second world war.
In 2013, Taiwan amended the Gender Equality in Employment Act, adding three days of menstrual leave to thirty days a year of sick leave.
South Korea and China each provide a day of menstrual leave. However, it’s only for women with diagnosed period pain in China and requires a doctor’s note.
In Zambia, public speaking about menstruation is taboo. As a result, they refer to a day of menstrual leave as “Mother’s Day”.
Spain is the first European country to approve paid menstrual leave. Workers with debilitating period pain can take paid time off.
2. Free sanitary products everywhere
In 2022, Scotland became the first country to approve free cups, tampons, and pads for anyone who needs them. Menstrual products will be free in pharmacies and community centres. It also made it a legal right to access free period products. The Scottish government provided £27 million to purchase sanitation products. The country also has a PickUpMyPeriod mobile app that lets residents know where pick-up points are for free sanitary products.
New Zealand also provides free menstrual products in public schools. Spain will also provide free products in public schools and prisons. France and Botswana also offer free sanitary products in schools.
Read Also: The Problem Of Period Poverty
3. Removing the tampon tax
Menstrual products are often taxed as luxury goods. But they should be a fundamental right that’s tax-exempt. Some states in the US, such as California and New York, banned the Pink Tax, which sees tampons, pads, or menstrual cups charged as luxury goods.
Kenya was the first country to eliminate taxes on sanitary products in 2004. In 2016, Kenya removed VAT on imported sanitary products and their raw materials, but the products are still subject to inflation price increases. South Africa, Canada, Colombia, India, Malaysia, Rwanda, and Australia also ended their tampon tax.
Read Also: Fighting Period Poverty In Africa With Always Africa’s Period Programs
4. Increasing period awareness
Eliminating period shame goes a long way in recognizing menstrual rights as human rights. In many countries, menstruation is treated as a taboo or as only a woman’s problem. For many Kenyan schools where period activation takes place, girls are separated from boys to teach them what they need to know about pads. However, boys should also be educated about menstruation. This helps reduce period stigma.
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