Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Merdeka Menstrual - Period Should Only End Sentences, Not Education

Hey ladies! Maxi or overnight, wings or without wings, while you get to choose your feminine hygiene products, it's a sad fact that many girls and women can't even afford the basic sanitary products. Even worse, sanitary products are considered as a luxury item in many parts of the world. Period poverty is the lack of access to feminine hygiene products, an issue we rarely touch on in public, but affecting millions of women worldwide, they literally have to choose between buying food or sanitary pad. How pathetic!

Last Saturday, youth-led organisations RedTalks celebrated their first anniversary with the launch of the Merdeka Menstrual event. RedTalks is a non-profit, college community service project founded by six students aims to destigmatize periods, fight period poverty and increase accessibility to reproductive and menstrual education across the whole of Malaysia. The event jointly organised with partners SPOT, Enya and The Body Shop Malaysia who was also the sponsor of the event was a great success with a huge turnout. Merdeka Menstrual is a meaningful platform to raise awareness on the issue of period poverty, aiming to empower, educate and create a safe space for all to do so.

During the event, the issue was discussed over three forums :

1) Battle of the Period Products - Centered around period collection methods, sanitary pads, menstrual cups and tampons. The panelists considered how safe scented pads really were considering they are a cause of itching, irritation and discomfort for many who used them. Also discussed was the factor of environmental sustainability that played a large part in the decisions made by many individual nowadays, finding that menstrual cups lasted the longest-up to 10 years, though it is not a feasible expenditure for the B40.

2) Abortions : Malaysia's Legal Taboo - The speakers enlighten the attendees on the legalities, accessibility and the process of abortion in Malaysia, as well as offering an Islamic perspective on the matter, shared by Sisters in Islam Senior Programme Officer, Syarifatul Adibah. Malaysia's pro-choice stance on abortion even applies to those below the age of 18 though parental permission would be required, just like every other available medical procedure.

3) Moving Forward : Period Poverty After Pink Tax - Explore the prevalence of period poverty in Malaysia and ways to move forward with initiatives to increase accessibility to menstrual products, as well as menstrual education. Before 2018, feminine products such as panty liners and sanitary pads are taxed either 5% or 10% higher in Malaysia but said tax, known as pink tax has since been removed. Its removal comes as a relief to the 15.7 million women in Malaysia.

One of the key matters that the forum covered was the different ways menstrual health education could be effectively provided to the public. The line up of panelists for all three forums included YB Maria Chin, Dr Rosvinder Singh, Syarifatul Adibah, Elaine Hong, founder of Enya and Aishah Hoo, founder of SPOT.

Before the event end, Deborah Henry also delivered a keynote speech on the matter of period poverty and menstrual education in Malaysia and recalled RedTalks' visit to Fugee School, a refugee school co-established by her, to deliver their talk on sexual reproduction, sex, menstrual health and consent.

#MerdekaMenstrual #RedTalks

"Our goal for Merdeka Menstrual is that everyone walks away having learnt something new about how they can provide aid to menstruators in need, that they have the power and they have all the tools they need to use it," said RedTalks co-founder Charmaine Cheong. "We do hope that the event will inspire individuals to take change into their own hands, just as we have."

Commercial & Strategic Value Creation Director of The Body Shop Malaysia, Kuan Sook Cheng said "The Body Shop has always been championing female empowerment and is on a mission to end period shame. Periods are a natural,normal bodily function of women and there should be absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. We want women to feel comfortable and confident with their periods."

Founder of Enya, Elaine Hong further added, "All women deserve accessible and affordable quality products. As part of our initiative and support, we are proud to announce that Enya basics, a pack of 10 regular pads will be free for all, just pay for postage on our website."

Merdeka Menstrual's message was also conveyed in the form of visual artwork, with an art auction of pieces from esteemed Malaysian artists Veshalini Naidu, Dhaniya Yusof, Yante Ismail, Mulaika Nordin, Rahemma Azwar, Visithra Manikam and Raven Lilith, as well as through musical performances from local talents Islands and Jetcetera, who each performed 30 minute sets, entertaining the attending crowd. Merdeka Menstrual also had a range of booths like The Hive, Cempaka Collective and White Coat Publishers.

It was really heartbreaking to know period poverty exists in Malaysia too. Together, we can help beat the stigma surrounding menstruation and #EndPeriodPoverty. Let's do this!

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