'Period poverty': Belgium called on to make menstrual products free

'Period poverty': Belgium called on to make menstrual products free
Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Following the announcement that Scotland became the first country in the world to make menstrual products free for everyone, several organisations are pleading for the same measure in Belgium.

The Scottish measure aims to counter so-called "period poverty," the phenomenon that many women and people who menstruate cannot always afford to buy tampons, sanitary pads and other menstrual products.

According to a recent survey by Caritas Vlaanderen, an organisation combatting poverty in Flanders, one in eight women (12%) in Flanders between 12 and 25 years old sometimes do not have enough money to buy the necessary sanitary products.

For girls living in poverty, this figure rises to almost 1 in 2 (45%). Approximately 5% of girls even miss school because they cannot afford pads or tampons.

"Making [the products] completely free would be fantastic," said Thijs Smyers of Caritas, pointing to the Scottish measure.

"I think we should use this momentum to continue the debate with us, and see how we can follow it up," he said. "In the end, [menstruating] is not something you choose."

Belgium's Children's Rights Commissioner, Caroline Vrijens, also called for sanitary pads and tampons to be made free of charge, as not being able to afford them has a big impact.

"The effect is mainly psychological," she told VRT News. "Women look for other solutions, but these are often not ideal. It causes a lot of stress, fear of leaks, and fear that people would see those leaks."

On top of that, it also creates isolation as girls without pads or tampons often skip school, do not meet up with friends and quit hobbies because they do not want to run the risk of bleeding.

"It is a double taboo: one on poverty and one on menstruation," Vrijens said, adding that it is a basic need to menstruate "in a normal way."

Former chair of the Flemish liberal Open VLD party, Gwendolyn Rutten, is also in favour of what she called an "elementary" measure.

"A small effort, but a world of difference for so many girls and women," Rutten tweeted. "For here, too: just do it."

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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