Recently, Jessica Valenti wrote a piece for The Guardian entitled “The Case for Free Tampons.”
She argues that “the high cost of a product that half the population needs multiple times a day, every month for approximately 30 years, is simply, well, bullshit.”
Therefore, we must subsidize them. Free tampons for all!
Her argument is typical of the leftist mindset – they recognize a problem, a perfectly legitimate problem, and insist that the government is the solution.
Feminine hygiene products. Image Source: Shutterstock
Now, don’t get me wrong: The fact that there are women in any country who can’t afford sanitary products is a problem. It’s a problem just like how there are women (and men) in every country who can’t afford decent health care.
There are women and girls all around the world who miss an average of six days per month of work or school, simply because they are women. There are parts of the world where the cost of a single pad is higher than a day’s wages. Keep in mind that not just one is needed per day, but several.
Lack of proper menstrual care and hygiene has significant risks; it can contribute to a woman suffering Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, STDs, cervical cancer, infertility, and can even increase maternal mortality rates.
This inaccessibility is heartbreaking and wrong.
But I completely disagree with the notion that the government is somehow going to magically solve this problem by subsidizing these products. I also disagree with her tactic of using women who actually suffer in poverty so deep that they cannot afford a pad as a talking point for her agenda. I respect these women, and that’s why I’m interested in helping them, not using them as a way to help the government get a little bit bigger.
In Valenti’s piece, the fact that there are charities that address this issue is hidden within parentheses.
Women in poverty-stricken countries have a difficult time affording feminine hygiene products and suffer multiple health issues as a consequence. But subsidizing those products is not the answer. (AP Photo/ Bikas Das)
It’s worth noting that these charities that address this horrible problem do so through free market capitalism. That’s right: They teach women in developing countries how to make and sell their own sanitary products. It’s also probably why they weren’t featured more prominently in the piece.
That’s the problem with the left: They see a legitimate problem and instead of solving it, they want to subsidize it.
Let’s examine one of these charities: SHE.
SHE boldly proclaims on their website that “charity alone” isn’t the answer:
“Instead, it’s time to actively partner with potential entrepreneurs within emerging markets to create jobs and accelerate the path toward sustainable social and economic change.”
Entrepreneurs are the solution. Not government.
SHE utilizes agricultural waste (banana fibers) to produce their product line called go! pads, creating not only affordable products, but jobs.
Once women have access to products they can afford, they will no longer have to miss out on work and school, driving more economic opportunity. They will also lead heathier lives.
Other organizations, such as Pads4Girls espouse similar beliefs.
A source Valenti herself cites tells the story of one such entrepreneur, an Indian man named Arunachalam Muruganantham, who decided to try to make and sell affordable hygiene products when he discovered his wife using an unsanitary rag he said that he “would not even use to clean my scooter.”
Recent efforts to supply all women in the U.S. with free contraception could be followed by a push to provide women with free hygiene products every month. (Photo: AP)
He asked her why she would resort to such a thing when they sold hygiene products in town. She revealed that the products were too expensive, and she could not afford them for all the women in the family. Wanting to impress her, he went to buy some for her. Once he looked at the simple yet expensive product in his hand, he realized that he could make them much more cheaply.
The story fluctuates from humorous, to heartbreaking, to disturbing. Basically, he tries and fails to sell his cheaper products to village women; all of whom are either too embarrassed to speak with him or thought that he was crazy. He tried other villages, but faced the same problem. In some cases, due to cultural beliefs, he could only speak with women through a sheet, or with a male member of their family present - certainly not conditions advantageous to his business.
He realized that if he couldn’t sell his product to women, maybe he could help them make and sell their own. He began to make replicas of the machine he used to make his product, and sold that to women instead. Village women were then able to buy the machine, start their own businesses, and sell to other women; an arrangement much more comfortable for everyone involved.
Muruganantham went on to achieve a level of success and recognition for his efforts. According to the BBC:
He was once asked whether receiving the award from the Indian president was the happiest moment of his life. He said no - his proudest moment came after he installed a machine in a remote village in Uttarakhand, in the foothills of the Himalayas, where for many generations nobody had earned enough to allow children to go to school.
A year later, he received a call from a woman in the village to say that her daughter had started school. "Where Nehru failed," he says, "one machine succeeded."
In this case, a free tampon didn’t send her daughter to school. Her business did. But this part was towards the end of the article. Maybe Valenti didn’t read that far.
Once again, we are talking about the difference between a hand out and a hand up.
So no, Time, subsidized tampons wouldn’t do women “a world of good.” But the businesses they start making and selling their own just might.
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