TWITTER posts on period poverty have once again garnered the attention of Malaysians.
One tweet stood out because the Twitter user bought sanitary pads for a girl outside a grocery store as she could not afford them.
Period poverty is a lack of access to safe and hygienic sanitary products due to financial constraints. It not only exists in wealthy nations, but also in developing countries, including here.
This scenario has become an acute reality in the country after more than a year of lockdowns and movement restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, limited data on period poverty in Malaysia has prevented organisations such as the National Population and Family Development Board of Malaysia and Women's Aid Organisation from helping marginalised girls and women.
There is increasing fear the ongoing financial distress arising from Covid-19 would result in more girls and women falling into depression and illness.
With no extra money to spend, many view sanitary products such as pads and tampons as luxuries. Some people might be forced to commit crimes to survive.
In Malaysia, an average pack of 16 sanitary pads costs RM10, while a pact of 16 tampons costs RM28.
With the loss of income, many people would prioritise spending on basic needs over menstrual products to cope with the rising cost of living.
When people do not have proper access to menstrual products, they many not be able to concentrate on studies or work during menstruation.
Worries about menstrual leaks or period pain may lead some people to stay at home. If this problem persists, more young girls might drop out of school and more women might be out of work.
The government should address the health and wellbeing of marginalised women and girls to reduce the adverse effects of period poverty.
Here are some policy recommendations for the administration to look into:
CONDUCT a study on period poverty by asking marginalised girls and women two questions.
First, "In the past 12 months, have you struggled to afford sanitary products?", followed by, "Do you struggle to afford sanitary products every month?"
It is crucial to follow up with respondents every month with the question, "Have you used other products because you did not have enough money to purchase sanitary products?"
PROVIDE more resources for soup kitchens and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to assist marginalised, underserved women and girls by including sanitary pads besides eggs, fruits and vegetables as well as baby formula.
TAKE into account the needs of the most vulnerable segment in society as part of the social welfare assistance programme so that individuals would not be forced to steal or commit suicide to end their problems.
ORGANISE door-to-door visits to understand the needs and problems of vulnerable communities and provide psychological first aid-based helplines for marginalised women and girls to express their psychosocial concerns.
Community grassroots can work with social workers, counsellors, psychiatrists and clinical psychologists to address early symptoms of depression among girls and women who face period poverty.
ENCOURAGE girls and women from marginalised communities to make, use and sell hygienic handmade sanitary products. This would ensure vulnerable girls and women have access to sanitary products and guarantee livelihoods.
EDUCATION providers can educate girls from a young age (such as age 10 onwards) on the menstrual process and how to maintain menstrual hygiene. By engaging boys and girls about menstruation, there will be greater awareness at the community and societal level.
INVEST in quality, accessible, affordable and gender-responsive community services, including psychosocial support. The government can mark and include all Bottom 40 per cent female-headed households onto its map, especially those who live in the interior and squatter areas.
NGOs and social workers can also help vulnerable girls and women fill out paperwork required for certain social benefits, like receiving free sanitary pads.
LEARN from and modify policy from countries like Scotland and New Zealand, which have passed laws mandating free sanitary products for women and girls.
We must first identify the root causes of period poverty. Together with the relevant data and information, policies and programmes making sanitary products more accessible and affordable can be implemented in Malaysia.
The writer is a research analyst at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research