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Brazil and California Both Just Addressed the Period Poverty Crisis In Very Different Ways

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Period poverty is an issue that affects millions of girls and women all around the world. According to Global Citizen, period poverty is defined as “the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand washing facilities, and, or, waste management.” Due to the social stigma and cultural shame around menstruating, many women and girls miss school and work when they’re on their period.

In early October, two different governments responded to the problem of period poverty in two very different ways. On October 9th, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law into effect that requires California public schools and colleges to provide free menstrual products to their students in their bathrooms.

This newest law builds on a 2017 law that required public schools in low-income areas to provide sanitary products to their students.

“Our biology doesn’t always send an advanced warning when we’re about to start menstruating, which often means we need to stop whatever we’re doing and deal with a period,” said Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, who spearheaded the legislation. “Just as toilet paper and paper towels are provided in virtually every public bathrooms, so should menstrual products.”

Unfortunately, not everyone feels that way. Last week, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro vetoed a bill that would have provided free menstrual products to poor Brazilians.

The bill would have provided given free menstrual products to communities in need, like homeless women, prisoners and girls at public schools. After all, in Brazil, period poverty keeps one in four girls out of school. When they don’t have feminine hygiene products on hand to absorb their period, they stay home from school rather than deal with the shame of bleeding at school.

According to Bolsonaro, he vetoed the bill because it “unfairly privileged one group above another” and he questioned where the funds would come from. Instead, he said that students should collect pads and tampons themselves to distribute at schools and campuses. But in Brazil—as well as other developing countries—the fix to this problem isn’t so simple.

It’s not just access to feminine hygiene problems that’s a problem in Brazil, but the state of sanitation all together.

In May, a report by UNICEF found that, in Brazil, 200,000 girls don’t have bathrooms at school, 4 million girls don’t have “adequate hygiene facilities” at school (i.e. sanitary pads and soap) and 713,000 girls don’t have access to a bathroom at all. These unhygienic conditions paired with the social stigma of menstruation make it difficult for women and girls to lead normal lives when they’re on their periods.

Brazilian women and girls alike are frustrated by Bolsonaro’s blocking of the period hygiene bill. After Bolsonaro vetoed the bill, the hashtag #LivreParaMenstruar began trending on social media which means “free to menstruate” in Brazilian Portuguese.

“Have you ever imagined using paper, newspaper or breadcrumbs to contain menstruation?” asked Rozana Barroso, president of the Brazilian Union of Secondary Students to The Guardian. “This is a harsh reality, especially among young people. In the midst of the pandemic and worsening social inequality this situation has got even worse.”

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