When we think of violence, we typically think of physical harm. In fact, the World Health Organisation defines violence as, “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.” Unfortunately, violence isn’t always physical – even if it has physical impacts.
The human rights perspective of violence is a more inclusive way of looking at violence as a whole. This approach considers violence to be the violation of basic human rights. The Virtual Knowledge Centre to End Violence Against Women and Girls explains, “Approaching violence against women from a rights perspective requires that gender inequality is addressed as a root cause, and that women’s rights and freedoms are upheld.”
By adopting a human rights based approach, we help affirm that a girl’s right to attend school, access medical care, or exert her freedom of speech (among other things), withheld, not because of tangible barriers to entry but by invisible systemic challenges, is still meaningful cause for concern. In this manner, we can rightfully claim that period poverty is an act of violence against menstruators everywhere.
Ultimately, period poverty is the result of state failure. When women and girls are unable to attend work or school because they cannot access fundamental sanitary care, there is a lot to be said about a government’s ability to ensure basic human rights to its constituents. As this outlook requires states to develop the capacities of “duty-bearers,” that is, those responsible for implementing the universal code of human rights and national laws (such as police, lawmakers, and health and education professionals), period poverty can only be seen as gross negligence on part of the state.
The only way to correct this systemic violence is to implement adequate laws that eradicate the root cause of the issue – stigma. As children are rarely given age appropriate sex education, especially in more conservative countries like India, the process of menstruation is stigmatised and never spoken about. When our government takes action to both educate individuals and provide the resources necessary to battle period poverty, thereby solving human rights issues, we can end one of the bitter realities of gender inequality.