Rupanjana Dutta Wednesday 06th March 2019 05:47 EST
Meghan Markle with Myna Mahila Foundation in India

A country's true empowerment lies in it's women's emancipation. Ahead of International Women’s Day, a trend-setter as always, UK has taken up the cause, making tampons, sanitary pads, towels and liners free to patients across NHS England hospitals for the first time, in a bid to ease care and combat period poverty. The UK government has also announced £2m to support organisations around the world to end period poverty by 2030. 

Recent studies have shown that one third of the UK population, have experienced poverty in recent years, with women being one of the most vulnerable groups. Lack of access to food and inadequate housing are often what we consider as poverty but research shows that ‘period poverty’ is a reality and an inevitable aspect for many women in the UK. With menstruation still a taboo subject for people in the Asian community, it makes it even more difficult for BAME women to ask for help when it is needed. Girl Guiding UK found that 26% of girls aged 11-21 feel embarrassed talking to people about their period, and 21% had been made to feel ashamed or embarrassed about their period. 

Organisations like Bloody Big Brunch, which hosts brunches around the UK, raising money to pay for period products, collected a survey that showed that 84% of people think distribution of period products in schools is equally important or more important than the distribution of condoms.

Welcoming the decision, the British Medical Association (BMA) is hoping that this initiative by NHS England will encourage other organisations across the UK to take a stand against period poverty. Commenting, the BMA board of science chair, Prof Dame Parveen Kumar told Asian voice, “The BMA is delighted that NHS England has supported our call for sanitary products to be made freely and readily available for all patients across England from July.

“Since being raised as a concern by doctors in June last year, the BMA has undertaken extensive research into the poor provision of sanitary products in hospitals, including Freedom of Information requests to all English hospital Trusts. This showed how patchy or non-existent the provision was and the relatively small cost of providing tampons and pads free of charge. We are pleased that our work, since then, with NHS England has culminated in such a successful result for women, bringing an end to indignity on top of ill-health.

“In taking this step, the NHS has shown that it can lead by example. As well as being an important influence in the shift that is necessary towards ending period poverty, this will be a relief for many patients who will no longer face the embarrassment and stress of not being able to freely and easily access sanitary pads and tampons.”

Speaking exclusively to the newsweekly, Indian-origin teen Amika George, campaigning for menstrual products for school girls from low income families, said, “I think the NHS providing free menstrual products is really a welcome move and so important, especially when shaving kits are handed out for free to men.” 

Amika became a recipient of the Goalkeepers Global Goals Award in 2017, a campaign demanding free sanitary products for poor girls in schools. Popularly known as the 'Oscars' for social progress, she won a Campaign Award for her initiative which first started as an online petition and culminated into a full-blown protest at Downing Street in December 2017. 

Helping other nations

Minister for Women and Equalities and Secretary of State for International Development, Rt Hon Penny Mordaunt has announced a new UK government campaign to break the silence and end period poverty globally by 2030. In many developing countries, it is estimated that half of all women and girls are forced to use rags, grass and paper to manage their periods. A lack of access to products, and the stigma and taboo that still surrounds periods, can force them to miss school or work, or even to live in isolated huts during their periods each month. In India, a quarter of girls miss school because of menstruation, and only 12% of girls and women have access to sanitary pads.

In a speech at Church House on Monday 4th, Ms Mordaunt announced a new campaign to end period poverty globally by 2030 which includes a new advisory task force of government departments, manufacturers, retailers, social enterprises and charities. A pot of £250,000 funding will kickstart this work, which will also lever funding and expertise from the private sector to develop a sustainable solution to period poverty in the UK. 

AmplifyChange has committed £1.5 million to support 54 projects working across 27 countries to help girls to manage their periods with dignity. This is part of UK aid’s ongoing support to the multi-donor fund AmplifyChange.

Meghan Markle supports eradication of period poverty

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle during their wedding had asked their friends, guests and well-wishers to donate to 7 charities instead of sending them wedding gifts. Myna Mahila Foundation was one of the charities. Set up by Suhani Jalota an activist working to improve public health in India along with three women, it has a factory that produces sanitary products, and which employs poor women in Mumbai by giving them jobs selling these products.  

Suhani Jalota told Asian Voice- “Secretary of State Penny Mordaunt's new campaign to end period poverty is fantastic, as it will not only raise awareness about menstrual hygiene and gender equality, but also increase direct access to these products (napkins or tampons) for women.

"UK is setting an example for other countries to follow, and they are doing it in the most dignified way - it is not about making periods a nationally debated topic, but about normalizing it so that a girl does not have to worry about her periods at all and can go to school or work without having to think feel disadvantaged!"

Not only officially the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have chosen the Myna Mahila Foundation to benefit from donations, four activists from the charity were also invited to the Royal wedding in Windsor Castle. Markle had visited Mumbai in 2017 to see the work done by the foundation and wrote about it in the Time magazine. Suhani first met Meghan in 2016 when the former went to give an acceptance speech at the Glamour College Women of the Year Awards.

"I am glad there are many stakeholders involved in this as well, including civil society organizations along with the Government. This ensures more sustainability and greater enforcement of the new rules on the ground to ensure the campaign has the greatest reach,” said the activist.

Period. End of Sentence is a documentary portraying female voices in a small Indian village just outside of Delhi and explores the stigma around menstruation. In its near 100-year history, the Oscars aren’t well known for awarding female film makers. Only five female directors have ever been nominated for the Best Director award and all the Oscar-winning films have been heavily male dominated. Directed by the 25-year-old Iranian-American director, Rayka Zehtabchi, the documentary won the best documentary in short subject at Oscars 2019.

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