After several young girls were reported to be making their own pads out of shoe insoles and toilet paper last year — and even became the subjects of a documentary — because they could not afford real pads, South Korea’s capital is making major moves to combat “period poverty.”
The South Korean metropolitan government launched a new pilot program on Monday that will make free menstruation management products available in 10 public facilities across Seoul, the Korea Herald reported. The program, part of Gender Equality Basic Ordinance, will provide free period products in the Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul Metropolitan Library, the Jungbu Women’s Development Center, and several other locations.
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“We plan to eventually expand this service next year, and what we learn and find out during the pilot period will all be put to use,” said an official from the Seoul Metropolitan Government.
The move not only comes on the heels of the criticism that South Korea received last year after the “insole girls” documentary highlighted how underprivileged girls were forced to create their own sanitary napkins out of shoe insoles, but after years of calls from women’s rights activists calling for such an initiative.
During the “insole girl” scandal, Yuhan-Kimberly, the country’s largest menstrual product producer raised the prices of its menstrual pads by 20%, inciting outrage. The pads were also linked to having toxins and carcinogens. In response to the backlash, Yuhan-Kimberly pledged to develop more affordable alternatives and to donate 1.5 million sanitary napkins to girls and women in need.
Around the world, 300 million girls do not have access to or cannot afford proper period products. Instead they resort to using things like rags, plastic, sand, and ash to manage their periods according to Cora, an organic tampon company that donates products to girls from low-income families. Such makeshift products are not always effective and can pose major health risks.
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Korea has some of the highest menstrual pad prices in East Asia, making it harder for women from low-income communities to access such products. However, last December, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety in South Korea allowed the first menstrual cup to be both imported and sold domestically, which could help reduce the monthly costs of menstrual products. In addition to being a cost-friendly option over time, he menstrual cup is also a more sustainable option that pads or tampons because it is reusable.
South Korea has also allowed women to take paid menstrual leave since 2001. Other countries that allow women to take days off for period pain include Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Zambia. However, such policies have also been criticized for perpetuating the belief that women are unable to work or carry out their lives as normal during their periods.