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Argentina: From “Social Justice” to “Menstrual Justice”

Néstor Kirchner, Casa Rosada, Argentina

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No, it’s not a joke. Last week the “first forum to achieve Menstrual Justice” was held in Argentina. 100 women participated, national and provincial officials, national deputies and senators, councilwomen, political leaders, cooperative members, and activists. In other words, a group of women who live off the state and the taxpayers.

The meeting took place in the South Hall of the Casa Rosada. It was attended by representatives of the “Jefatura de Gabinete” and eight of the 21 ministries we have in the country: “Economy,” “Health,” “Social Development,” “Productive Development,” “Education,” “Security,” “Environment,” “Sustainable Development” and, finally, the ministry of “Women, Gender and Diversity,” among other government agencies.

The reason for the meeting was to discuss the “inequality factor that menstruation implies” and along the same lines they proposed “initiatives to reverse the situation that affects not only the economy but also the health, education and work of women and menstruating persons.” (The term “menstruating persons” should be the subject of another analysis).

This is tantamount to saying that the state has managed to dive into our panties without any objection. To establish that the natural process that month to month takes place in the female body is an issue for which the state must take charge, it is no longer what it is (a natural process for women) but rather a political issue, something that will not only be politicized again in civil society, but will also be used as a banner for the “achievements” that have been conceived under a leftist government like that of Alberto Fernández. Victories that will fade away throughout this article.

A derisory measure for the common denominator of the world’s population, but not for Argentines or Venezuelans. Both countries -which have maintained a symbiotic relationship for several years-, take great care of the areas that not only belong to the civil society, but in this case, belong to the most intimate spheres of the female body because this time it is the body itself.

Under the excuse that “menstrual pads, tampons, and cups represent an additional economic cost for women and people who menstruate”, we are going to have the state interfering in these matters as well.

The “Social Preventive and Obligatory Quarantine,” doesn’t it exist?

Another argument for the state’s interference in women’s underwear is that “the most affected are those who have fewer resources and, unable to access these products, are absent from school or work, or resort to alternatives to manage their menstruation that can affect their health. According to the forum, “1 in 10 girls do not attend school during menstruation. Poor girls who cannot afford to buy wipes do not go to school out of shame.”

There has been no formal schooling in Argentina since mid-March when President Fernández declared the “Preventive and Obligatory Social Quarantine” for the entire country. Thus, the cessation of face-to-face activities in educational institutions continues to this day, and students have virtual ones from home in all education levels. But removing the circumstantial question produced by a pandemic, in reality, what has to be said and is not being said is that: 6 out of 10 children are poor. Which child or adolescent would think of attending school with an empty stomach?

“From the economic point of view, we spend between AR$1,898 and AR$3,805 per year to manage menstruation. For many, it may not be much, but not for those who represent the poorest 10% of the population and who earn about AR$4,350. In other words, in a poor household with two menstruating women, the equivalent of almost a whole month’s income is spent annually,” said Mercedes D’Alessandro, the national director of “Economy and Gender,” an area that is part of the Ministry of “Economy” of the Republic of Argentina.

Although these figures cited by the director are tremendously alarming, the obligation is to ask ourselves why there is a 10% poor population that, in addition, earns 4,350 pesos (43.11 dollars, in the official exchange rate- that is, the rate established by the Government), while a state official (like her) with the position of national director, (like her), receives AR$120,000 per month (1,359 dollars). This is what should really be the main topic of the forum.

Under that cautious and protective logic proposed by characters like D’Alessandro, the focus of this forum regarding women’s health in Argentina should perhaps be the fact of asking about the salary gap between a public employee and one who is not. Or, it could also be asked about the need to address this issue when 48% of the country is submerged in poverty.

From “Social Justice” to “Menstrual Justice,” the problem of populist governments
“But taking out the circumstantial question produced by a pandemic, in reality what has to be said and is not said is: 6 out of 10 children are poor. What child or adolescent would think of attending school on an empty stomach? (Ministry of Economy)

Another statement from the state worker was that: “During the pandemic, women’s [monetary] income decreased and many lost their jobs.” She noted that there was a reduction in the price of tampons by more than 75% and almost 40% for wipes, as these products were introduced into the “Controlled Prices” basket.

In other words, it would be like this: thanks to the policies of massive confinement taken by the Government of Alberto Fernández of which she is a part, due to the pandemic, after not being able to work many women lost their jobs because the same Government ruled that they could not bring bread to the table, since they had to stay at home.

But at the same time, there was a reduction in the price of feminine hygiene items after including these products in the “Basic Basket”, (a group of foods necessary for the survival of an average family in the country that must rigorously maintain a price established by the Government, since it is a “palliative” against poverty).

When they notice they are the problem

In addition, in the forum they also stated that “According to data collected by the Economy, Equality and Gender Department, the Value Added Tax (VAT) on products acquired by menstruating women represents about 328 million pesos collected” (3,694,941 dollars in official exchange), indicated the head of the “Advisors Cabinet Unit of the Secretariat of Strategic Affairs of the Presidency of the Nation” Mercedes Roviralta.

She also mentioned that “one of the measures we are working on is the elimination of VAT on menstrual management products, since they are a source of unequal tax treatment in the health and hygiene basket of menstruating persons”. In that sense, “eliminating the tax would be a tool to improve equity,” she concluded.

This is equivalent to saying that: we must finance or subsidize what is already being subsidized by the state and at the same time lower taxes on these particular products. A kind of “Kramer vs Kramer”. Meanwhile, in this Machiavellian plan in which the government gets into your body, and a group of state hustlers gets together in order to achieve this by putting forward ideas that are not only illogical but diametrically opposed to each other, the kilo of meat in a country of cows costs AR$700 and not because the producer sells it dearly, but because at that price, 41.3% are taxes (VAT) introduced by this same government and from which they receive their salaries. They are unimpeachable.

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