Sajith tackles women’s taboo subject | Daily News
‘Rather be a ‘padman’ than the-man-with-the-van’

Sajith tackles women’s taboo subject

Presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa refused to back down from a difficult conversation about a women’s health issue yesterday, as he hit back hard against criticism from opponents over his decision to grant female hygiene products free of charge to women who cannot afford them.

Taking to Twitter, Premadasa took on his critics who had labelled him ‘#padman’ after a recent Bollywood movie about the subject, saying thousands of women suffer stigma and put themselves at risk every month from being unable to afford female hygiene care.

 “I will not shy away from this conversation. If we are serious about women’s empowerment, this a basic place to begin,” the NDF candidate said in a series of tweets on his official account. Premadasa asserted that until “sustainable and cost effective” alternatives were found, he would stand by his pledge to offer free sanitary napkins to women who could not afford them.

“I remain committed to women’s rights,” he added.

Taking the #padman tag in his stride while delivering a broadside at his main opponent, SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Premadasa said: “I will wear the padman label proudly.”

“In my view, it is certainly preferable to being the man with the van.”

The tweets won the NDF candidate considerable public support, particularly for boldly taking on a women’s issue still steeped in stigma.

Menstruation remains a difficult conversation in Sri Lanka with considerable stigma and concerns about “impurity” surrounding the basic female biological function. A 2015 survey by UNICEF in Sri Lanka found that more than half of adolescent girls skip school during menstruation.

The issue took centre-stage earlier last year, after a public outcry over the 100% levy the Government was imposing on imported sanitary napkins. The call to make basic feminine hygiene products affordable resulted in Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera reducing the levy to 63%, but activists say the duty is still too high. Minister Samaraweera has pledged to find ways to bring the taxes down on the products even further.

A pack of sanitary napkins costs between Rs 100-150, a figure most Sri Lankan women find unaffordable.

Many women use rags or other unsanitary products during their period, a practice that increases health risks for women.

The world over, ‘period poverty’ has made headlines. In 2018, the Bollywood hit “Padman” was based on the true story of a man who invented a low cost, biodegradable alternative to the traditional sanitary napkin after watching his wife struggle with using rags during her period.

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