[the United Kingdom=globalnewsagency]Being bilingual in Korean and English, I am often frustrated when I am not able to find a suitable word when translating from one language to another. On the other hand, I feel a sense of pleasure when I find the perfect word for the situation.
Recently, I felt such pleasure when I learned the phrase ‘period poverty’. Since 2017, period poverty has been used to describe the difficulties experienced by low-income women and adolescents who cannot afford sanitary products in the United Kingdom.
The first photo I took when I arrived at the University of Edinburgh was neither a selfie nor of a campus building; it was a photo of the free sanitary products in the school's bathroom. When I saw the phrase, “Take what you want, take what you need it,” I was flooded with a sense of relief and even felt supported for being a women.
When I shared this story with a Scottish friend, I mentioned Korea’s ‘Insole Sanitary Pad incident,’ and he kindly taught me the term, ‘period poverty,’
and shared a similar case in the UK that led to the government to provide free sanitary supplies.
In 2017, Amika George, a then 17-year-old girl, read a newspaper article about schoolgirls who were regularly absent because they were not able to purchase sanitary products. Amika felt that it was unjust that period poverty was not just a temporary inconvenience, but also a continuous issue caused a learning gap in girls’ education impacting their long-term goals and dreams.
Amika created the #freeperiods hashtag on social media and launched a campaign with an online petition asking the government to provide free sanitary products to girls from low-income families. This led to the government’s decision to offer free sanitary products to all middle, high schools and universities in 2019.
Scotland took one step further and passed a bill in 2020 to provide sanitary products at designated facilities like schools, public institutions, and pharmacies; allowing those in need to receive sanitary products for free.
In 2016, there was a similar incident in Korea called the ‘insole sanitary pad incident’. A female student from a low-income family used shoe insoles or toilet paper during her menstrual period because she could not afford sanitary pads. When this became publicly known, many women, including myself, were outraged.
For women in Korea, the need for sanitary pads is such a common problem that we would ‘lend them even to the enemies of the family,’ to use a colloquial term. The shame and discomfort this ‘insole sanitary pad’ girl experienced was shared by all Korean women. This incident garned support even from men, as many men expressed shock and also agreed that “this should not happen”. However, we cannot stop with just emotional support as a society, we need to move on to the next goal.
Mensturation should not be a fearful or burdensome issue for women. Period poverty was regarded as an individual problem until a few years ago, but now we should break away from that perception. We should recognize that the elimination of period poverty will guarantee women's right to education and health; and is hence a human right, and furthermore, gender equality.