08.11.22 Period Poverty
Access to menstrual products is not self-evident. That is becoming more obvious. A growing group of people does not always have access to the necessary products, which means that they cannot participate in society and run health risks. The problem is significant. This is why more and more volunteers are rising up to fill this gap to the best of their ability. Also, young people see that their fellow students do not come to school and together they provide free products at school. At donation-dependent dispensing points, there is a run for products. But we cannot expect volunteers to completely solve this problem. In fact, therefore, the responsibility for the availability of menstrual products should lie with the municipality. During the budget discussion (begrotingsbespreking) on Tuesday, November 8, 2022, Martin van Rooij made a plea before the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the Municipal Council to take this responsibility. In this article, we take you through the issues of menstrual poverty, the importance of access to products, and the role of the municipality.
Menstrual poverty – putting the problem on the map
Menstruating is the most normal thing in the world and, above all, it is not a choice. Menstruating safely and hygienically – in other words, with dignity – is a basic need. Unfortunately, this is not a reality for many people. For about 10 percent of menstruating people, it is difficult to obtain menstrual products such as pads and tampons because they do not have the money for them.
These people are also hindered by a double taboo. Many people already find it difficult to talk about menstruation, and then also having to tell people that you are poor makes everything more difficult. Hence people find it difficult to ask others for pads or a tampon.
What is period poverty?
It means not having the means to menstruate in a safe and hygienic manner. This may be because there are no financial resources for products, no access to proper sanitary facilities, or a person lacks knowledge about menstrual health. Period poverty directly affects a person’s physical and mental health, freedom of choice, and ability to participate. For example, wearing a tampon too long can put a person at risk for tampon disease. Or infections can result from holding used sanitary napkins for a long time.
Research in the Netherlands
Research shows that 1 in 10 people who menstruate sometimes lack money for products. Also, a study by Plan International shows that 4 in 10 respondents had to stay home once because of their period, instead of going to school or work.
The actual number is probably even higher. Previous research was not inclusive enough in terms of gender diversity – not all people who menstruate are women – while vulnerable groups such as the homeless are hard to reach. Poverty in Maastricht is above the national average and, moreover, the number of people living at or below the poverty line has increased significantly over the past 2.5 years. This is unlikely to change anytime soon. The financial consequences of the pandemic, housing, and energy crises affect not only those living at or below the poverty line but also other people, such as the self-employed and students.
Menstrual poverty does not only affect a person’s physical health. No menstrual products can also result in children and adults not attending school, work, or social activities. If this happens routinely one week a month, it can cause major backlogs in school, withholding of wages, and delays in social development. Menstrual poverty excludes a group of people from full participation in society.
Other municipalities are able to do it
The Dutch Cabinet has already spoken out on this: period poverty is part of local poverty policy. So the responsibility lies with the municipalities.
Many municipalities have already taken up this responsibility, so there are more than enough examples of how it can be done. Already 14 municipalities have implemented policies to tackle period poverty. Take Rotterdam for example, here menstrual products are available free of charge through the Rotterdampas, on toilets in the city hall and the city store, and soon also in schools. In Scotland, this problem has even already been addressed on a national level.
Municipality of Maastricht
An approach against period poverty would fit well with Maastricht’s social vision. Both the budget and coalition agreement refers to creating an inclusive society, access to sports, culture, and books for all children, and equal opportunities in education. Access to menstrual products is a prerequisite for participation in these activities and thus for their success. In addition, the coalition agreement talks about fighting the ‘dichotomy’. Period poverty affects inequality between poor and rich residents. Adding to for example the gender gap in education and at work.
We believe that being able to menstruate safely and hygienically is a fundamental need. Menstruation continues regardless of pandemics or energy crises. Menstrual products are essential hygiene products that belong on every toilet. Just like toilet paper, hand soap, and a trash can. And no one should ever have to choose between food or pads.
So during the budget discussion, we made an appeal to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. As a pilot, let us provide money for the issuance of menstrual products so that everyone always has access. Let’s also offer menstrual products at restrooms at the Municipal Office (Gemeenteloket) and Centre Ceramique. For these products also belong there. After the pilot, we could then evaluate how this has worked and if necessary the approach could be adjusted. We submitted this motion together with the Socialistische Partij (SP), Groenlinks (GL), and Partij voor de Dieren (PvdD). Unfortunately, this motion was not adopted by the city council.
We would like to thank all the wonderful volunteers in Maastricht who offer menstrual products. And for those in need: you can find help at Quiet Maastricht and Buurtcentrum Mariaberg. Keep courage.
Martin van Rooij, Lex Borghans & Joyce Grul
Inspired by all the others who have gone before us, thank you for your splendid efforts.