Women workers in Special Economic Zone mobilise for their health
by Melani Manel Perera

Protesters hold a rally against “menstrual poverty" due to high-priced sanitary napkins, taxed like a luxury item. Priced at 45 rupees in Nepal and Thailand, they cost at least 300 in Sri Lanka. For this reason, many female students are forced to stay away from school when they have their period.


Colombo (Asia News) – Women and girls are an essential component of Sri Lanka's economy and society, but they are left on their own to cope with the issue of menstrual health, whether students in school or, especially, female workers in the Free Trade Zones (FTZs).

To raise the visibility of the matter, the Free Trade Zone's Solidarity association yesterday held a rally in Katunayake.

"In countries like Nepal and Thailand, you can buy sanitary napkins for 45 rupees," says activist Chamila Thushari, while “women in our country have to spend between 300 and 500 rupees.”

“It is very unfair that a woman is forced to spend a significant amount of her minimum wage on sanitary napkins because a large tax has been charged on it,” she added. For this reason, “the government should cut taxes and not charge so much for a product that is essential for women's health.”

Urging the Ministry of Health to act, Thushari turned her attention to businesses. “We ask branders to pay more attention to the health conditions and health needs of women in their code of conduct and provide female workers with facilities with the soap, water and sanitary napkins they need.”

"This issue is not a popular topic in Sri Lanka today," said Ashila Dandeniya, executive director of the Sri Lanka Organization. “We don't talk about it, but for most women in the country it is a serious problem given the little money they earn.”

What is more, “About 50 per cent of girls who attend school neglect their education on those days because they can't afford to buy sanitary napkins,” she explained. “How much is this a crime? That's why the menstrual poverty that afflicts women workers and girls has become a burning yet silent problem in society."

In addition to the protest in the Special Economic Zone, advocates are trying to raise awareness among women. In the Katunayake area, a day-long workshop was held yesterday. About a hundred women workers took part in sessions led by Dr Gayan Senaratatne, nursing instructor Anurddhika Iroshini, and police officer S. J. Sanjeewa.