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France Makes Menstrual Products Free for Students, Here's How Other Nations are Fighting Period Poverty

Feminine hygiene products are seen in a pharmacy. (Image for representation/REUTERS)

Feminine hygiene products are seen in a pharmacy. (Image for representation/REUTERS)

Although the United Nations has already recognized menstrual hygiene as a global public health and human-rights issue, an overwhelming number of women in Asian nations are still suffering from lack of menstrual and basic sanitary hygienic conditions.

The French government on Tuesday announced that it would be making period products available for free for students in the country. The European nation's decision comes in the wake of advancing towards ending 'period poverty' across the world.

French Higher Education Minister Frederique Vidal said that tampon and sanitary pad vending machines, sanitary towels and other menstrual products will be made available free of cost for students at the student residences and university health services in the next few weeks.

So what is period poverty and why has it been a widespread concerning factor across the world?

‘Period poverty’ is defined when there is a significant lack of menstrual hygiene and other essential sanitary products along with toilets and clean water. This is usually found in areas that are financially not well off, thus subjecting young girls and women and even men to lack of hygiene. Although the United Nations has already recognized menstrual hygiene as a global public health and human-rights issue, an overwhelming number of women in Asian nations are still suffering from lack of menstrual and basic sanitary hygiene issues.

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Reports conducted by the UNCIEF and Water-aid have shown that a lot of girls do not have the full understanding of menstruation and even a lot of them even have to miss schools on their first day of periods because of lack of facilities for menstrual hygiene.

Scotland last year became the first country in the world to make period products free for all, thus kickstarting a movement that inspired feminists and anti-period poverty campaigners around the world to also take up the issue with other governments. England has made free period products available in all primary and secondary schools.

Schools in New Zealand will also start offering free period products from June as authorities have felt female students have been forced to skip school during periods because of non affordability of menstrual products like tampons and sanitary pads.

Some US states have also passed laws ensuring free period products to be provided in schools.

The WaterAid report said that in India, over 1 billion sanitary pads are disposed of annually, which is why there is a strong need to ensure effective management of menstrual waste. The Indian government had in 2018, after years of campaigning by activists, had scrapped a controversial 12% tax on the feminine hygiene products. However, reports from various sources still say the country has a long way to go before we can achieve menstrual hygiene for girls and women to a large extent.