Here’s to a period-stigma-free Pakistan one day

Pakistan should plan to provide free sanitary and hygiene products to women in schools, colleges and public spaces.

Purniya Awan July 21, 2022

In Pakistan, where period stigma is still widely and painfully prevalent, a fantastic campaign and initiative has been launched by Always in collaboration with Wonder Women aiming to provide easier access to menstrual hygiene. The campaign, #AlwaysAsani – meaning “always easy” – has vowed to deploy vending machines containing sanitary products in washrooms of educational institutions around the country. So far, vending machines have been installed at the following colleges: the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Government College University (GCU), University of Lahore (UOL), and University of Central Punjab (UCP).

The vending machines only accept notes of Rs100, Rs50 and Rs20.

As a way to normalise and increase awareness about the importance of readily available sanitary products for women in public spaces, a number of places around the world such as, India, Tanzania, Scotland, Ireland, South Africa and England have already taken similar steps to install vending machines at schools, colleges and airports.

With growing mindfulness of menstrual hygiene, there is a global uproar about no longer hiding information and being ashamed of experiences surrounding periods. Because menstruation is a natural phenomenon experienced by every girl in her lifetime, it needs to be accepted by society without any sort of judgement. Hence, sanitary napkins need to be recognised as a fundamental right of every woman and access to it should be available in every part of globe.

As girls and women, we have all experienced and/or suffered and continue to do so from early or unexpected period arrivals in public spaces, period pain and aches, which is why this initiative proves to be an extremely necessary move to better cater to women’s needs – especially those that are purely natural occurrences.

Even though this is a first of its kind step within Pakistan, no doubt a positive one, we must understand the socio-economic implications that come with it as these vending machines are primarily installed within urban settings. Having said that, there are still many untapped areas where these automated vending machines can revolutionise the campaign for women’s health.

For example, in developing countries like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, where most women cannot afford sanitary napkins, inexpensive sanitary napkins dispensed through vending machines could be supported by government campaigns, resulting in favourable opportunities for rural women, whose education and overall life experiences are majorly hindered due to shortage of affordable sanitary pads.

Education for girls is the first aspect which is automatically restricted when they don’t have the necessary and appropriate sanitary products to use. Unfortunately, in rural settings within the Asia Pacific region, especially in south East Asian countries, menstruating women are still subjected to social stigma and considered untouchables. Not only that, because of this continued stigma, women in rural areas are more exposed to poor hygiene and more prone to contracting serious ovarian diseases such as the urogenital tract infection.

These are challenges that significantly deter girl students’ access to continued quality education. By truly comprehending the setbacks of ignorant and regressive perspectives on menstruation, addressing period poverty would become much easier, which would ultimately allow girls to pursue education and other activities that may not be possible otherwise.

Whereas #AlwaysAsani should be commended for its vision, resolve and implementation so far, the obvious next step would be to collaborate with the government to encourage them to provide further financial support to further similar campaigns. Taking a cue from Scotland, New Zealand, South Africa, Zambia, parts of Canada, France, and the United States, Pakistan should take serious interest in eradicating period poverty and plan towards eventually providing free sanitary and hygiene products to women in schools, colleges and other public spaces. Having state parties involved plays a critical role in shifting perceptions of women toward personal hygiene and getting rid of psychological stigma associated with sanitary napkins and other products.

A sustainable plan is needed so that women are given their due respect and dignity, given their right to go to school and to work with back-up and fallback plans already available for them during times of need. For now, we deserve to celebrate this victory as it was a long time coming. Here’s hoping we see a period-stigma-free Pakistan one day. More power to #AlwaysAsani!

Purniya Awan

The writer is a Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies graduate from York University. She has been nominated as a Global Shaper of the World Economic Forum, is a Founding Member of a Pakistani legal blog, Courting The Law, and is also the Co-Founder of The Gender Stories (TGS). She identifies as a feminist, and is currently working in Pakistan as the Head of Communications at MINT PR. She tweets @purniyaA.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


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