Campaign to fight period poverty should target B40 first, Health Ministry told

PETALING JAYA: The initiative by Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa to address period poverty, the lack of access to menstrual products, has met with mixed reactions.

Although they regarded the move as a noble one, some have called the minister out for not appearing to understand that those in the bottom 40 (B40) income group are the ones in dire need of sanitary napkins.

On Monday (Dec 12), Dr Zaliha announced that in an initial effort to address period poverty, the ministry would be providing free feminine hygiene products in its toilets before expanding the programme.

The announcement received a lot of attention on social media with users weighing in on how the programme should be conducted.

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Facebook user Yong Chian Haw said: “Hello, please use our country’s resources wisely. I fully support giving free menstrual pads to promote higher levels of hygiene, but in view our country does not have unlimited budget, instead of giving it free in the KKM office, why not start with rural areas for Orang Asli, or give it free to the poor and needy?”

User Siti Hajar, on the other hand, said it was not wise to waste taxpayers’ money.

“In the current uncertain economic situation, please don’t waste people’s money. Are you saying the minister’s office staff cannot afford to buy sanitary napkins? It is better to distribute them around secondary schools in rural areas,” she wrote.

Fie Naz said the idea was just so-so, saying: “If you really want to distribute, it should be done in the outskirts of Sabah … go there, at least you will understand the level of hygiene among women and teenagers and get to know the level of available facilities in the outskirts.

“The shops are located (too) far away to buy this thing … if you want to give it to the KKM staff, there are convenience stores for them to buy. Give (some) ‘punch’ as the health minister.”

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Another user, Nur’ain, suggested that the ministry work with the Education Ministry to address the issue.

“Good start. I would suggest starting in schools and clinics in rural areas. I remember as a child accompanying my mom to teach in the school, many Orang Asli and poor students were asking for sanitary pads.

“My mom’s locker was filled with them every week. Then again, it is the teachers who are contributing to their students.

“Perhaps there can be a collaboration and how to dispose of them. Hope this can be considered,” she wrote on the ministry’s Facebook page.

MedTweetMY chairman Dr Khairul Hafidz Alkhair Khairul Amin (@khairul_hafidz) also shared a thread via Twitter on the issue, saying it was a good initiative but fell short of the target group.

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“It is a good initiative to give out free sanitary napkins to address the issue of period poverty.

“But you have to understand the issue is ‘poverty’ so the target group is for those who really can’t afford it.

“Good initiative, but for me the target group is wrong,” he tweeted on Monday.

Dr Khairul also said the ministry office was unsuitable, and the free products should be placed at an entry point which is accessible by more people.

Twitter account @pedulimerah, dedicated to addressing period poverty, thanked Dr Zaliha for highlighting the issue but described the initial step as “populist”.

“The priority should be given to the B40 at health clinics, hospitals … access to menstruation treatment.

“Access to knowledge and accurate management of menstruation is also important.

“The ministry can work with the Education Ministry to prepare and monitor the issue of menstrual poverty in schools,” it said.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) urged private employers to work with the ministry to provide free sanitary pads to overcome the issue of period poverty.

MEF president Datuk Dr Syed Hussain Syed Husman said women also contribute to economic development and nation-building.

“As such, women’s healthcare in this country needs to be stressed and should start from basic self-care such as hygiene during menstruation,” he said in a statement on Monday.