A Bloody Mess

toallas-sanitarias-reusablesOn May 28th Venezuela celebrated the International Menstrual Hygiene Day.  On that day, we embraced:

…the opportunity to create awareness of the right of women and girls to hygienically manage their menstruation – in privacy, safety and with dignity –

Because,

good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) plays a key role in enabling women and girls to reach their full potential.

Access to sanitary napkins, tampons, menstrual sponges or other means to manage our periods is vital.

How vital? Well it’s considered a form of domestic abuse when your partners limits, hinders or controls the way you manage your menstruation.

Think about it. How would you, as a woman, manage if you didn’t have access to any form of menstrual hygiene product, and wouldn’t have access to it in the near future? Would you go to work tomorrow? Or to school? Probably not.

Venezuelan women have enjoyed their right to hygienically manage their menstruation for many years. Now, things are changing.

Two weeks ago, new controlled prices for some toiletries items was published.  A pack of 8 tampons will run you about 1.300 Bs.. Your garden variety menstrual pads will cost you about 350 Bs. per 8 pads.

Lets do the math: you change your pad/tampon every 6 hours, so you use 4 a day. The average period will last about 4 days, that means that you, a la chiquita, need two packs a month. If you are a pad user, you just spend about 700 Bs. on your menstruation. That’s about 10% of your minimum wage salary.

If you are a tampon user, that’s 2.600Bs. More than a third of minimum wage. Ouch.

Oh, you say, just switch to pads then, they’re cheaper. But here’s the catch,

  1. NO, I should be able to choose the menstrual hygiene product that I feel comfortable with and
  2. You can’t find the regular sanitary napkins. Actually, you can only find postpartum sanitary pads that cost a whopping 1.389.23 Bs. for a pack of 6, S-I-X-. So you would need at least 3 packs during your period. That’s 4167.69 Bs. More than half of the minimum wage.

And if that isn’t bad enough, the complete breakdown of the production system, means that you will find just one brand, just one type. And this is not, “Oh well I couldn’t find Fama de America, so I’ll drink Santo Domingo”. No, sanitary napkins are a deeply personal choice, and the one that fits me like a glove might give you a horrid rash. I have two sisters and we all used different brands and kinds of menstrual pads.

To counteract the problem (?), some revolutionary women have been marketing the “Revolutionary Menstrual Pads” and the backlash has been appalling.

People calling women dirty, sick and crazy for choosing reusable menstrual pads, men saying that they would never sleep with women who used them, women being insulted at the idea that they should have to retouch something stained with their menstrual blood,  because, you know, our periods are dirty dirty things and we should hide it or just leave the village until that blood stops flowing. Shame on you.

Now,  I don’t find reusable sanitary napkins a bad idea, the amount of waste we generate during our menstruation is alarming, and I’m one to think that anything we can do to not only decrease the amount of waste we produce but also to “improve” the quality of that waste is a good thing. This is actually a movement that is gaining traction in the developed world.

When I first saw the story, I had my reservations about reusable sanitary napkins, mainly over the matter of possible bacteria and yeast growth on the fabric and the apparent danger to my reproductive system,  but after much research I learned that they were safe if cleaned correctly.

But in Venezuela, it’s just not practical for all – many Venezuelan women live in places with  a precarious water system and have a hard time finding soap or detergent. For me, this would makes using reusable sanitary napkins a nightmare.

What else exists?

If your are the lucky few that stills has your Cadivi dollars, or live in Caracas and can go to Aquamater, you can buy menstrual cups. Made of latex or silicone, they are small receptacles that go in your vagina, similar to a tampon. They come in a wide variety of shapes and colors (even pink!). They don’t absorb the blood, rather they collect it. Again, it takes water and soap, but not as much as laundering sanitary napkins, and they require less changes in the day.

Nonetheless, this is not for everyone. Not all have access to internet, cadivi, not everyone is comfortable with their menstruation, some women may experience discomfort, some women may  find it uncomfortable emptying the cup, and others may just not want to stick a piece of silicone up their vagina. It’s their choice.

Except, we really don’t have many choices these days.

As the revolution chugs on, women are remain – as always – disproportionately affected. So here’s another tip for our clueless, sexist opposition leadership: take up the issue of feminine hygiene, one that really affects Venezuelan women, one that is entirely the government’s fault.

Do it for your mothers, your wives, and your daughters. Hell, do it for your mistresses. Just put it out there.

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