“Period poverty” — the state in which women can’t afford sanitary pads and tampons — has become an issue in Japan and around the world. But a survey by the Chugoku Shimbun in May showed that municipalities in the Chugoku region are not keen on offering support, with only three out of 54 cities distributing such products free of charge.
The survey, conducted by telephone between May 10 and 13, found 51 cities in the region, or 94.4%, have no such policies in place, with all cities in Yamaguchi and Shimane prefectures saying they aren’t planning on implementing one.
There are citizens groups that are taking it upon themselves to distribute sanitary products for free, but the sensitive nature of the issue signals the need for municipalities to be more proactive.
Three cities — Tottori and Yonago in Tottori Prefecture, and Kurashiki in Okayama Prefecture — have been handing out pads by taking advantage of stockpiles that had been kept for disasters. Yonago, the earliest to start, prepared 100 packs that each contained 20 to 30 sanitary pads and distributed them at its city hall and other locations on April 1. The city said it had tapped into the emergency stockpiles because attempts to budget for new supplies would take time.
Sakaiminato, in Tottori Prefecture, and Okayama also have plans to distribute the menstrual products.
Having prepared 80,000 pads at the request of a city assembly member, Okayama is currently discussing the timing and method of distribution. Sakaiminato planned to distribute 1,300 sanitary napkins starting at the end of May.
“There are no direct requests coming from citizens, but it’s a difficult issue to talk about, and we want to keep up with other municipalities,” the city said.
Five other cities, including Hiroshima and Miyoshi in Hiroshima Prefecture, are still considering whether to go ahead with the free distribution. Hiroshima responded, “Since this is a nationwide problem, we’re considering whether this is something we should work on as a city.”
But 44 cities, or 81.5% of the total, don’t have any plans to do so. Twelve of the cities are in Hiroshima Prefecture, 13 are in Yamaguchi Prefecture, 11 are in Okayama Prefecture and eight are in Shimane Prefecture, with many claiming there has been no requests from citizens.
While local governments are reluctant to take action, support is spreading among businesses and civil society.
Dot Style, a citizens group in Yamaguchi Prefecture that supports single-parent families, began distributing sanitary products in the cities of Yamaguchi and Hofu in early May. The project, funded by donations, is believed to be the first such effort in the prefecture, and, over the course of two days, two packs with 20 to 30 sanitary napkins each were distributed to 54 people.
One of the women who received the sanitary napkins was a 41-year-old woman who lives with her 6-year-old daughter.
Last spring, she lost her part-time job at an inn due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has since been struggling financially. Her electricity and water were cut off, and she was forced to spend what little money she had left on feeding her daughter. She couldn’t afford to buy herself sanitary products.
Desperate, she made her own sanitary napkins by cutting up her daughter’s old clothes and layering plastic wrap over them. When she didn’t have enough clothes, she instead layered newspapers on top of the plastic wrap. She knew it wasn’t the most hygienic thing to do, but couldn’t think of any other way.
She was let down by the lack of support from the local government.
“It’s a difficult thing to talk about, not being able to buy sanitary goods. But there are people like me who need them,” she said.
It is not just a family financial problem. A 44-year-old woman in Yamaguchi Prefecture who was raised by a single father realized that she had in fact been a victim of period poverty during her childhood after learning about the issue on the news.
When she was in the fifth grade, her parents divorced and she began living with her father and younger sister.
Her father, who didn’t know how necessary sanitary napkins were, didn’t buy enough of them. As a child, she couldn’t bring herself up to tell him about her struggles and had no allowance with which to purchase them herself.
She couldn’t change sanitary napkins as often as she should have, and her sister sometimes even had menstrual blood leaking from her school uniform.
“If my mother had been around, I could have talked to her about it. I hated being a woman,” she recalled.
Dot Style plans to continue its distribution of sanitary napkins throughout the prefecture.
“I hope the circle of support will expand to include municipalities,” said Yasuo Tanaka, president of Marukyu, a supermarket in Hofu, Yamaguchi Prefecture, that donated the napkins.
Minako Konishi, 49, head of Dot Style, said she wants to rectify current discrepancies in the level of support that each municipality offers.
“We need to create a society in which people don’t have to worry about periods, such as by having sanitary products available in schools,” Konishi said.
This monthly feature focuses on topics and issues covered by the Chugoku Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the Chugoku region. The original article was published May 16.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.