ECONOMYNEXT – Fifty-percent of Sri Lanka’s female student population is hesitant to go to school during their period, with the country’s prevailing currency crisis worsening the already debilitating effects of period poverty, an opposition legislator said.
Main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Rohini Kaviratne said in a Twitter Space discussion on Wednesday September 21 that more families have been affected in the last seven months.
‘Period poverty’ refers to difficulties faced by low-income women and girls in accessing menstrual products. Citing a recent study, Kavirante said in the discussion, organised by Sri Lanka parliament’s communications unit, that many students are missing school due to their inability to acquire proper sanitary napkins.
The prices of sanitary napkins skyrocketed from March to September of 2022 with the country facing a severe currency crisis amid tax hikes on imported products. As of September, the price of a 15-napkin pack ranges from 350 to 800 rupees in the market.
“If we take households with females between 12 and 49 years of age, 50 percent of those families are affected by period poverty,” said Kaviratne.
Also taking part in the Twitter Space was Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, who in the same discussion justified the higher tax on sanitary pads claiming that it incentivised local manufacturers.
Kaviratne said the average price of a sanitary napkin pack is around 500 rupees, which is equal to the price of two kilos of rice, forcing families to sacrifice women’s hygiene for more food.
“On average, one female needs around two packs a month, roughly costing around 1,000, rupees, which is equal to four kilos of rice. In a crisis like this, families have to prioritise,” she said.
President Ranil Wickremeseinghe has already instructed the authorities to provide sanitary napkins to female children in schools free of charge, said the MP, requesting the health minister to see that the directive is implemented.
Responding to the minister’s remarks on the higher tax, the SJB MP said more brands should be imported into the country in order to create a competitive market, providing the advantage to the consumer and the ability to purchase sanitary products at a reasonable price.
“We have a limited number of sanitary napkins that we import. We need more brands to be imported in order to create competition in the market.
“The same goes for the locally manufactured products,” she said.
Minister Rambukwella, meanwhile, said proposals have been made by several interested parties to launch a low-cost sanitary pad manufacturing process in Sri Lanka, similar to what was initiated in Tamil Nadu by inventor Arunachalam Muruganantham of ‘Pad Man’ fame. Such a project could also bring income to low-income families, he said.
“Some ladies also came and met me. I asked my two daughters to meet them and discuss it, and we are trying to see whether we can do it here and produce cheap but very effective sanitary napkins. I too think we must discuss this openly and use alternative arrangements that are even more sophisticated,” he said. (Colombo/Sep22/2022)