Interview: “Menstrual poverty is a health problem

Last week, the Bolsonaro government vetoed the free distribution of sanitary pads to women. After great pressure from society and on social networks, he signals to withdraw from the measure.

However, the theme has already been worth it to show the government’s stance in relation to women’s living conditions – and the government’s ignorance on the topic of so-called menstrual poverty.

According to UNICEF, 62% of girls said they stopped going to school or somewhere else because of menstruation, and 73% felt embarrassment in these environments. In an interview with Marcia Cordeiro, a member of Coletivo Manacá, which produces ecological pads in partnership with seamstresses and popular groups, she talks about the lack of access to menstrual pads causes many women to improvise materials, such as newspapers and old cloths, compromising the health.

Check out the full interview:

Brazil de Facto Paraná. Coletivo Manacá addresses an essential theme for women’s life and, consequently, of great social relevance. At the same time, it seems to be an invisible issue as a basic item for women’s lives. How important is the discussion on menstrual poverty?

Marcia Lamb. Half of the country’s population is made up of women who menstruate for a good part of their lives. However, this theme is still a taboo, little discussed in society and in public policies. This happens because the structure is still designed by men and for men, resulting in inequality of rights and opportunities. The reality today is that of thousands of girls and women who do not have access to menstrual pads and other hygiene items, making daily activities, full development and dignity difficult. According to UNICEF, 62% of girls said they stopped going to school or somewhere else because of menstruation, and 73% felt embarrassment in these environments. This is aggravated when it comes to the lack of access to toilets and basic sanitation, such as homeless women deprived of freedom. The lack of access causes many women to improvise materials, such as newspapers and old rags, compromising their health. We experience, as educators and teachers, many cases of lack of girls in the classroom during the menstrual period, for lack of the minimum condition to meet the need during the period. Or even using inadequate materials to contain bleeding as mentioned above. Menstrual poverty is a public health, education, basic sanitation and human rights problem.

You form a sewing and reflection collective, which has guided the production of ecological sanitary pads and trained women from the periphery in this production. And also in this debate. How did you get the news of Bolsonaro’s veto on the distribution of tampons?

We are aware that in the most misogynist government in the history of this country, moving forward with this agenda that is so necessary for women would not be easy. Following his own position on gender and class issues, how much it hurts the dignity of so many, including Brazilian women who are ahead of the most urgent vulnerabilities and considering data that show how much women were affected in this pandemic in all social spheres: unemployment, eviction, demand with their children, care for family members. We decided to get together with more women from different backgrounds and groups of seamstresses to reflect on the topic of menstruation and sew fabric absorbents that are for many a healthy, economical and ecological option. They will be distributed free of charge in the community and marketed by them so that together we can defend the right to live with dignity.

How do you see, at this time of high cost of living, basic items and extreme precariousness of life for the people, the situation of women in the periphery and their access to hygiene items?

Currently, many rights are being refused: food, housing, education, work. In these conditions, vulnerable women are the most affected and are often responsible for the care of the entire family. Of course they will choose to buy food over tampons. Hygiene items that should be considered essential, such as absorbents and soaps, are currently in the cosmetics classification and thus receive a high tax rate, increasing the price and making access difficult. It is urgent that these items are considered a basic need and that there is free distribution in schools and health centers for girls and women who need it, just as it is with male condoms. Many groups are spreading the word and we will continue to fight for the menstrual dignity policies of access to health items and knowledge of the subject by men and women.

Source: BoF Paraná

Edition: Lucas Botelho

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