Free pads for 800,000 students in 2021
Several local companies express interest
By Pamodi Waravita
The Ministry of Education is planning to provide free sanitary napkins to approximately 800,000 schoolchildren through a three-stage project this year, with priority to be given to schoolchildren in rural areas, according to the Ministry.
Speaking to The Morning, Media Secretary to the Ministry of Education Buddhika Wickramadara said that this is part of its Health and Nutrition Programme, and the priority given to rural schools, is due to them facing greater issues with the affordability and accessibility of sanitary napkins.
“The programme would then focus on mid-level schools. Finally, the provision of free sanitary napkins to urban schools would be discussed. However, we hope to provide free sanitary napkins to all schoolchildren who need them before the end of this year,” he said.
Wickramadara further stated that the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) would be monitoring the implementation of this programme in each district.
According to Wickramadara, a few Sri Lankan companies that produce sanitary napkins have already approached the Ministry of Education to provide these products at a low cost, but no company has been selected yet.
“We are cautious, since we do not want to provide low-quality sanitary napkins to schoolchildren. We would be consulting the Health Ministry before proceeding,” he said.
When questioned on the distribution process of sanitary napkins to the children, Wickramadara said that initial discussions have not yet covered the topic. However, he mentioned that several details related to distribution options need to be discussed, including how many pads would be provided per child and whether distribution would occur at schools or through a coupon-based system that enables children to independently purchase the products.
The Health and Nutrition Programme further hopes to construct toilet facilities in 2,500 selected schools with over 2,000 students. The programme would also look at providing sanitary rooms, in addition to sanitary napkins, to relevant schools.
A United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) survey of adolescent Sri Lankan girls conducted in 2015 with the Government found that more than half of the respondents had to miss school when they were on their period. Additionally, another UN study has found that over 60% of teachers in Sri Lanka thought that menstrual blood is impure.
The provision of free sanitary napkins to all women in Sri Lanka was one of the main campaign pledges of Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa during his presidential campaign in 2019, which stirred a heated debate on whether sanitary napkins should be provided free of charge, and whether the subject should even be discussed openly in Sri Lankan society.
In November 2020, Scotland became the first country in the world to provide free sanitary products to anyone in need of them, with the introduction of the “Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill”. The Bill states that access to period products must be granted easily and with dignity to all those who need them.