‘Bringing receipts for sanitary pads, explaining buying tampons – that’s also violence’

Tenderness and freedom

In 2019, the report ‘Nationwide diagnosis of the phenomenon of violence in the family’ was produced. Part of the research focused on economic violence. The results were alarming.

14% of respondents in this survey agreed with the statement that ‘dispensing money and controlling all spending is a sign of a spouse’s thriftiness’. It seemed obvious to these respondents that if one person only does housework, the other person has every right to control all expenses.

That dozen or so percent is a very high level of acceptance. This is partly due to the fact that in Poland the awareness of what economic violence is still very low.

Because we assume that the man must be the head of the family?

Many families still hold firmly to this belief, among other things because men are still more likely to earn more, so it is assumed that they are the ones who are supposed to have control over money. The man’s earnings are not treated as joint household money.

We also still have the myth of romantic love. Women believe that after getting married they will live happily ever after, and before getting married they don’t talk about money because it’s not appropriate, or they agree to give their partner their savings or possessions because ‘he loves me so much’. These are wildly disturbing stories that, from our observations, are constantly repeated. These women are left without what they earned for themselves before entering the relationship.

Economic violence isn’t just about dispensing money for spending.

It also means controlling these expenses, i.e. demanding receipts for everyday shopping, restricting access to accounts and, above all, forcing the other person to humiliatingly ask for money. But also taking credits and loans or disposing of things (e.g. selling) without the consent and knowledge of the other party. Which comes as a surprise to many: How so? Is that violence too?

Economic violence is also failure to pay child support. Unfortunately, there is still a high level of social acceptance for this practice, amounting to several percent!

It is also violence to take over a partner’s earnings, but if two parties earn money, it is easier for us to see it as violence.

It is worth noting that economic violence does not only affect ‘poor’ homes.

This is another myth. Of course, studies show that financial conflicts are more common in poorer families, which is understandable when there is not enough for basic needs, but when the situation involves women from a wealthy home, you automatically undermine what they say. People find it hard to accept the fact that a woman who drives an expensive car every day and whose children are beautifully dressed and go to private schools can also experience such violence. And such a woman may become hostage to her wealthy husband.

The stories of such women are therefore often questioned. It shows how we are treated as women: as not serious, not trustworthy. And that gives men great power, because if they restrict our access to money, they can do whatever they want with us. They disregard not only our needs, but also our decision-making.

You mentioned how humiliating it is to ask for money. How humiliating is it to have to bring receipts every month for purchased sanitary pads?

It’s terrible. Constantly asking for money for sanitary pads or other hygiene products definitely violates our personal dignity.

Moreover, this humiliation does not end with the request itself. I know of cases of women who not only had to ask for money for hygiene products, but often had access to them conditioned on them having sex with their partner.

It was mentioned in the UNICEF report on the situation in Africa. As many as 65% of girls in Kenya have experienced sexual violence when trying to obtain hygiene products.

In Africa the scale of this practice is enormous, but – as we can see – it exists here as well. Because economic violence is never violence in its pure form. It often goes hand in hand with psychological violence, but also takes the form of physical and sexual violence.

Abusers know very well that women have a very difficult time when it comes to menstruation. Because after all, the period repeats every month and if we don’t get that pad or tampon, we don’t leave the house, we become even more dependent on that partner. And violent people exploit this in different ways.

What else besides forced sex?

They prevent contact with loved ones, friends and family in order to isolate them from people who could give them support. It can also lead to job loss as the woman will not be able to fulfil her professional responsibilities. Frequent absenteeism is not welcomed by employers. And yet a woman won’t tell her boss that she can’t come to work once a month because she’s on her period and doesn’t have money for pads. For a violent person a period is a huge field for blackmail, humiliation.

4% of Polish women are not able to take care of their hygiene during their periods. You know, you can read on forums that it’s not much, and that we have swollen heads because in the past women somehow managed without sanitary pads.

This is shocking data! We live in a European country, in the 21st century. It is shameful and unbelievable that AS MUCH AS 4% of women can have this problem.

After all, it’s our basic need, it’s not our fault that we bleed every month, that’s our physiology. 100 years ago we also didn’t have the right to vote and women managed to live with this somehow, which doesn’t mean it was a good solution. We are already at a completely different point in history, we don’t have to be ashamed of menstruating, and access to these resources is simply something we deserve. If we have paper in the toilets, why can’t sanitary pads lie there? This would greatly reduce the level of taboo that has grown around periods.

Women who experience economic violence in the context of menstrual poverty obviously cope as our mothers or grandmothers did – they use torn pieces of cloth, cotton wool – but the problem is that these are all half-measures, horribly excluding these women from social life. With such a makeshift pad it is very easy to get your clothes dirty, it is difficult to freely perform many activities. We will not go to work, our daughters will not go to school out of fear.

Unfortunately, this shame is still huge, I myself remember how I felt when blood appeared on my clothes. Unfortunately we live in a misogynistic society. Men and boys have no idea how difficult menstruation is for women. They react to the sight of blood on their clothes with laughter.

Which only adds to this shame, and the circle just keeps turning. How do you get out of it?

It is not easy to get out of a violent relationship, because the person experiencing violence has no money to even rent a flat, let alone support themselves before they find a job.

That’s why the beginning of this relationship is so important. Women have to think about what will happen when the spell has broken and those first heart leaps have passed. That if a man avoids talking about finances early on, then something is wrong with the relationship from the start. That you might want to sign a prenuptial agreement. And if you do decide on a joint account, make sure you leave your savings in another account, but also that your partner can’t make financial decisions on his own above a certain amount. Expenses not agreed with us that significantly burden the household budget should be disturbing.

And there are still daughters of these women in all of this. They also start menstruating at some point.

It all overlaps, because even if children are ‘only’ witnessing violence, it has a huge impact on them. The trauma of witnessing it is the same as experiencing it.

Of course, the situation becomes even more difficult when a woman has to ask for money not only for sanitary pads for herself but also for her daughters. And women are often stuck in violent relationships for the sake of their children, waiting until they have grown up. And because of this, they are able to do a lot for these violent partners, just to provide a better life for their children.

And then such a girl enters adult life with the conviction that asking for basic needs is the norm in a relationship.

Could wider access to reusable products improve the situation?

First of all, it is important that we break our shame and start talking about menstruation freely. So that women know that these are necessities that they simply deserve.

But I do dream of seeing in the flood of Christmas ads at least one saying: ‘buy your partner a menstrual cup for Christmas’.



Joanna Piotrowska - fundacja Feminoteka

Author: Magdalena Keler

Photo: pexels.com

The text was published on wysokie obcasy.pl on 18 December 2021