The program, which went into effect Monday, is part of Seoul’s newly revised Gender Equality Basic Ordinance, which advises the Seoul Metropolitan Government to offer free feminine products at public properties and facilities, especially for emergency situations.
A number of women’s rights groups have been demanding for such a program, after it was reported in 2016 that young girls from low-income families would use shoe insoles when they have their periods, as they cannot afford women’s products.
|A woman uses a feminine hygiene vending machine that provides free women`s products at a public facility in Seoul. (Seoul Metropolitan Government)|
The case has been considered as an example of “period poverty” in South Korea, a term which refers to having a lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints.
According to overseas studies, women who have experienced period poverty are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety and have unfulfilling romantic relationships later in life.
Seoul Metropolitan Government says a number of other places across the globe, including New York and Scotland, have started giving free sanitary products for young girls for similar reasons.
In April, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that all public schools in the US state would give out free tampons and pads in a move designed to “fight menstruation taboos” and ensure that “schools remain safe settings” for girls during their periods.
In August, the government of Scotland unveiled its 5.2 million pound ($6.9 million) scheme to ensure access to free feminine products for all students at schools and universities across the country.
While there have been a number of movements by NGOs to tackle period poverty, South Korea still remains an expensive place to have a period.
Last year, Yuhan-Kimberly, one of the major sanitary product makers in Korea, raised prices of its pads by 20 percent. Many criticized the firm’s decision, as the country’s pad prices had already been among the highest in East Asia.
To tackle the issue, the Seoul Metropolitan Government surveyed some 1,475 Seoul residents before launching the ongoing pilot program. Among the participants, 92 percent agreed that feminine products should be free at public facilities. Some participants claimed tampons and pads are basic necessities and should be free for all women at all places.
“Toilet paper, for one, is a sanitary necessity and is constantly being restocked in public bathrooms,” said one of the survey participant. “Tampons and pads are also necessary for sanitation as well. So why are women’s products not being provided for free?”
The Seoul Metropolitan Government said all opinions will be taken into account during the pilot period.
“We’ll figure out the number of daily usage (of the products) at the facilities during this period,” said an official from the Seoul Metropolitan Government. “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.”
The 10 public facilities where free pads are being provided are: the Seoul Museum of Art, the Seoul Museum of History, Seoul Women’s Plaza, Guro Youth Center, Northern Seoul Museum of Art, Jungbu Women’s Development Center, Seoul Metropolitan Library, Gwangjin Youth Center and Taiwha Christian Community Center.
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)