A monthly need for women
We cheer the Leader of the Opposition, Sajith Premadasa, for making a plea that would be a boon to all Sri Lankan women, more especially the poorer. In his debate speech on Budget 2021, he suggested that the tax on sanitary pads be eliminated. That is the least the Government can do to ease the burden of buying necessities by women who need to budget for sanitary wear needed every month by her and her grown-up daughters.
We can be sure, when strapped for money, this item will be foregone, given up, so that dhall and rice can be bought. Result: unhygienic wear during women’s monthly menstruation, entailing sheer discomfort and danger of infection, and also exhibiting to the entire household the fact of a monthly period. It was stunning to know that in some poverty stricken Indian rural villagers, women had no access to even a clean rag and so dry leaves were substituted during the ‘bad days’. We feel certain many a Sri Lankan woman too suffers privation once every month, having to wear rags, connoting discomfort, tell tale signs, bad hygiene.
How very much more convenient to wear a throw away, comfortable pad. As recent as sixty years ago, sanitary pads were rare and affordable, and known only by the well-to-do. Girls’hostels had a woman dhoby who would wash napkins sewn to specifications. Unhygienic, restrictive and inconvenient for the wearer and an insult to a human being. In rural places, many girls skipped school during their monthly periods.
I read about an Indian small time industrialist who, seeing the abundance of cotton plants in his area of residence and knowing that girls were suffering monthly interruption to their schooling, decided to employ a couple of women to turn out sanitary pads. He devised a hand driven machine for this purpose. The made pads were sold at a nominal price, only to give payment to the women working for him. He then further innovated that so that other villages could adopt his simple machine and thus decentralised the production and sale of the essential requisite. It turned out to be such a boon, not only to earlier sufferers during periods, but enabled stay-at-home women to earn an income.
‘Ending period poverty’
The phrase above was how BBC announced the 24 November 2020, decision of the Scottish Parliament to make female sanitary products available to all free of charge. Thus women need no longer pay for their monthly requirements of sanitary wear. The idea seemed to have been moved by a woman member of Parliament and it was put to the vote. The no charge proposition won the day. We consider Scotland a western country and therefore of the first world. It is part of the United Kingdom but having held referendums whether to secede or not have been quite a few. So far the Scots have voted to stay as part of Britain and accept Queen Elizabeth as their sovereign, though earning much independence and a national parliament. But it is not a rich country, through very rich in its cultural heritage.
Maybe the most famous Scotsman is Sean Connery – Bond, James Bond - who was the best Bond of many in Ian Flemming’s filmed stories. He died recently and is recognised as one well-known person who sought independence for Scotland from being a part of the UK, though independent to a great extent now.
J K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series lives in Britain but is of Scottish lineage. She imagined Potter and Hogwarts while travelling to London and lookingout through a window. She outlined her character on a paper napkin in acheap tea shop in London. Now she is a multi-millionaire.
Andy Murray, once Wimbledon Champion, is also Scottish. So also famous writers Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and R L S Stevenson.
We do hope Sri Lanka will follow Scotland and go two steps further than what the Opposition Leader proposed, and make available sanitary wear to women free of any charge.