Scotland is now the first country in the world that will provide free sanitary supplies to all those who need it. Its Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act was passed unanimously by the parliament yesterday. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon took to Twitter to share the news, writing that she was "Proud to vote for this groundbreaking legislation." The Bill was introduced by Member of the Scottish Parliament Monica Lennon to tackle "period poverty". But could one expect anything less from Sturgeon and her government, who after winning the 2014 elections introduced a gender-equal cabinet?
Scotland's empowering decision sadly reminds me of the struggles that women and girls face in our own country due to a lack of proper access to sanitary products. In May this year, SheThePeople had reported how women and girls living in Jonha, a village around 35 kilometres from Ranchi, had resorted to using leaves, petticoats and hay during their periods as they had run out of sanitary supplies due to the lockdown. A few days after our reporting we got to know that Jonha girls got a visit from Aanganwadi workers, who distributed sanitary pads to them. You can read more about it here.
Around 62 percent of young women in India still use cloth during periods, according to the 2019 National Family Health Survey. Could the fact that women make up for only 13 percent of elected parliamentarians in our country today, which is an all-time high be responsible in some way? How can 13 percent representation do justice to the fifty percent population of the country?
Women make up for half of our country's population. Women and girls are one of half of the people in every nation, every nook and corner of the world. Thus, there is no reasonable explanation as to why period poverty and lack of proper access to sanitary products, an issue that affects one half of the world population, hasn't been addressed and tackled globally as of yet. No girl should have to skip school because she doesn't have access to menstrual hygiene products. No woman should have to feel a dread rumble in her stomach as she finds that she has gotten her periods at her workplace and has come to work unprepared. A non-binary or transgender man shouldn't have to justify to anyone why sanitary products are a basic need for them, and their gender doesn't matter when it comes to availability. Uninterrupted access to sanitary products anywhere and everywhere is the right of every single person who bleeds.
Women leaders can play a crucial role in ensuring that we are provided with what we deserve. In June this year, New Zealand announced that it will be providing free sanitary pads across schools in the country. Like Scotland, New Zealand too has a woman leading the nation. Women leaders like Sturgeon and Jacinda Ardern must make us question what are we losing out on by not encouraging female participation in politics? In a society that is deeply divided on the basis of gender, how do we expect women's issues to be addressed thoroughly and effect solutions to be formulated if women are not the part of the process, especially in leadership roles?
The change has to start from the electoral level. As more and more women step out to vote, they must ensure that women leaders are given an equal chance to prove their mettle. That their gender doesn't become a roadblock in their political advancement. Only when women strengthen their present from the lowest rank in the pecking order to the top, and then ensure diverse representation, can we ensure that elephants in room such period poverty are addressed and subsequently tackled.
Picture Credit: The Herald
The views expressed are the author's own.