In Brazil, according to research from the United Nations Fund for Childhood (UNICEF), at least 4 million girls do not have access to basic hygiene items. A bill that would make it mandatory to distribute free sanitary pads to female students in public elementary and high schools had already been approved in the Senate. Furthermore, the bill would also guarantee free sanitary pads to homeless women, imprisoned women, and any women in situations of social vulnerability. Nonetheless, on October 7th, the President Bolsonaro vetoed the main parts of the law.
Bolsonaro’s main argument was that the bill had not mentioned an adequate origin for the economic resources to finance it. He did not consider the funds from the Unified Health System (SUS) and from the National Penitentiary Fund, (both indicated in the bill) as a proper source to finance this project. He stated that it would be contrary to the public interest since it does not comply with the universality principle of the health care system as not all users of the system could benefit from this measure. Similarly, he affirmed that this use of the Penitentiary Fund is not mentioned in the law which created it. What is more, he alleged that tampons are not in the list of essential medicines and this measure was not compatible with the autonomy of educational networks and establishments. Fortunately, Congress can still overturn the Presidential veto.
Research conducted by P&G indicated that one in four Brazilian girls miss classes at school due to the lack of sanitary pads. They often need to recur to alternative products to stop the bleeding, which may cause infections and other health issues. In other words, Brazilians have their education, health and their well-being compromised by the lack of proper menstrual products. Hence, this veto goes against the fundamental right to health of women, girls and people who menstruate. Unfortunately, the President’s senseless conduct only contributes to increase gender and social inequalities in the country.
While menstruation is a biologically normal process of the body, there is still stigma around this subject. At least, this situation seemed to have raised important debates all over the country about period poverty, which is paramount to deal with this health crisis. Access to sanitary pads is a basic right during one’s period that cannot be denied.