TACOMA — An issue that affects women and girls globally, period poverty refers to a lack of access to safe and hygienic sanitary products, rendering females unable to manage their periods and causing menstruation to interfere with their day-to-day lives. Period poverty exacerbates general poverty by preventing women from attending school or work and increases the risk of serious health problems when unsanitary alternatives are used to manage menstruation. In Thailand, this issue is particularly prevalent. However, the company Ira Concept is making great progress in combating period poverty in Thailand.
Period Poverty in Thailand
In 2021, the Thai government classified period products as cosmetics, raising concerns that they may become subject to the same tax as products like lipstick and hair products. This would mean an increase in the sales tax on period products from 7% to 30%, rendering them inaccessible to much of Thailand’s lower-income population and exacerbating an already prevalent problem.
For instance, under the current 7% tax, using five sanitary pads a day would consume more than 12% of the daily income of someone earning the Thai minimum wage of 313 Baht, equivalent to about $9.95, per day. This effectively makes period products a luxury that many are already unable to afford. For example, as of March 2022, only 35.28% of Thai women had access to sanitary pads, according to the Bangkok Post. This means that many Thai women and girls are forced to stay home from work or school during their periods, hindering their access to income and education and contributing to poverty in Thailand as a whole.
Factors Contributing to Period Poverty in Thailand
Furthermore, menstruation is still a taboo and neglected topic in the Thai education system. The taboo surrounding menstruation has left people uninformed and stunted research on the lived experience of Thai women and girls. UNICEF research into menstrual hygiene management in Southeast Asia found that teachers show discomfort in covering the female reproductive system and lack the resources to teach the topic effectively. As a result, Thai students lack knowledge about menstruation and feel shameful about their periods, perpetuating a taboo that prevents women from speaking out about the need for increased access to affordable period products.
In 2020, Varangtip Satchatippavarn launched the company Ira Concept to combat period poverty in Thailand. Aiming to improve the accessibility and biodegradability of period products in Thailand, the organization sells organic, plastic-free period products at a reduced price. Its goals include empowering and empathizing with women, closing the gender gap and dissolving menstrual stigma in Thailand.
Additionally, Ira Concept donates products to women in need in an effort to uphold their basic human rights. As of June 2023, it had donated 471,000 pads to improve the situation for the many Thai women and girls living in period poverty. It has also launched multiple missions to donate period products to those struggling to access them in and around Thailand. For example, during the 2021 COVID-19 quasi-lockdown in Bangkok, 80,000 migrant workers could not leave their work camps and employers failed to provide necessary resources, including sanitary products. Ira Concept intervened, using 10% of its July earnings to provide sanitary pads to women in these camps.
Equally, Ira Concept emphasizes educating Thai women and girls to help address the stigma and misconceptions surrounding periods and period products. For instance, tampons remain taboo in Thailand due to the misconception that their insertion can break the hymen and destroy one’s virginity. To combat misinformation, Ira Concept has launched a blog that openly discusses these issues. The posts provide sex education with lessons such as “Anatomy 101,” which explains the female reproductive anatomy. The content also raises awareness about the multifaceted nature of period poverty and the “free bleeding movement,” an initiative among women who choose to not use period products and instead bleed freely in a stand to eliminate period stigma and promote solidarity with people living in period poverty.
While period poverty remains prevalent in Thailand, Ira Concept is making significant progress in tackling it. In collaboration with The Pad Project advocacy group, it worked to oppose the 2021 recategorization of period products and helped convince the Thai government to recognize period products as a necessity, not a luxury. Moving forward, the organization hopes to help eradicate period poverty in Thailand and ensure that all women are provided with safe, affordable and disposable sanitary products. Its efforts are making a difference in fulfilling the basic human right of hygiene that many women are denied.
– Erin Latham