period poverty human rights
(Picture for representational purposes only). Residents at the squatters of Kampung Pantai Dalam living their lives under the Movement Control Order (MCO) 2.0 to curb the spread of Covid-19. PIX: MOHD ADZLAN / MalaysiaGazette / 21 JANUARY 2021.

The following article is submitted to the editorial of MalaysiaGazette by Nur Yasmin Binti Mubarrak & Assoc. Prof. Dr. Shahrul Mizan Ismail, Faculty of Law, The National University of Malaysia (UKM)

Period Poverty refers to the struggles of girls and women who cannot afford menstrual products such as sanitary napkins, tampons, pain relievers or even underwear. In addition, a lack of education about menstruation and hygiene are also included as period poverty. Most of those women that are facing this issue came from poor households and underprivileged communities. Due to financial constraints, some of them opt for pregnancy every year to avoid menstruating as they cannot afford the monthly cost of menstrual products. Those who do not struggle with this issue might find it difficult to believe that it really does happen. The question is, who is responsible? 

John Rawls, a philosopher and a professor of Harvard University mentioned that a good system of justice is a cooperative system that ultimately fully empowers the weakest side of society. To achieve that, a veil of ignorance must be applied by all people which means that we must exclude our personal self-interest. By doing so, we can think rationally and decide the duties of societies and how the basic principle of justice can be impartial. 

One of the causes for period poverty is the cost of menstrual products. In Malaysia, the average cost of menstrual products is between RM10 for a pack of pads and RM28 for a pack of tampons. Not to mention, it is a monthly commitment which means that it can reach up to RM120 per year and it is not a small amount for underprivileged families. Furthermore, what if that one household consists of three or more women? Surely, it will be a heavy burden for them. Moreover, the impact of COVID-19 also has affected the financial abilities of many households. Worse to worst, the loss of incomes and jobs makes it harder to even survive. Therefore, an extra budget and attention to help the girls and women in need is now a necessity. There might be some people who think that it is unfair as it only focuses on women. However, the concept of justice by John Rawls provides that a personal interest can be made to be something that is fair to all.

Recently, a good initiative was implemented by the government of Malaysia. Tengku Zafrul Aziz announced the 2022 Budget which finally mentioned period aids such as monthly handouts of basic sanitary kits to 130,000 female teenagers from the B40 group. However, according to Fuziah Salleh, a Wanita PKR Chief, the budget is not a long-term measure to tackle the issue of period poverty. She urged the government to opt for more environmentally friendly and financially sustainable solutions such as giving washable sanitary towels instead of disposable sanitary pads to the female teenagers. 

In conclusion, everyone has an equal responsibility and should be aware of the issue of period poverty. Thus, we need to help in curbing this issue together and try to create better solutions regardless of gender even though period is a natural biological phenomenon that only happens to women. 

Nur Yasmin Binti Mubarrak


Prof. Dr. Shahrul Mizan Ismail,
Faculty of Law, The National University of Malaysia (UKM)