We often tend to shy away from conversations about periods, mainly due to mainstream media depicting disgust or uncomfortable reactions when menstruation is brought up. The current inequity that menstruators are facing, however, cannot be shied away from. The accessibility of hygienic products is the main issue and severely restricts the everyday lives of people who menstruate. They may not be able to leave their homes, go to school or work, and may suffer from health issues such as Toxic Shock Syndrome. Additionally, the pandemic as a whole has made things worse for those experiencing period poverty by leaving marginalized populations that were already struggling at even more of a disadvantage due to a lack of products available, “panic buying,” and a lack of financial resources to purchase these items.
“Period poverty” refers to the prevalent phenomena of being unable to afford products such as pads, tampons or liners to manage menstrual bleeding. In lieu of sanitary products, many people are forced to use items like rags, paper towels, toilet paper or cardboard.
The statistics surrounding period poverty are incredibly concerning. According to a study conducted by Harris Insights & Analytics of 1,000 teens, 25% of respondents missed class because they didn’t have access to tampons or pads, and 1 in 5 cannot afford period products. When menstruators resort to unhygienic alternatives, they are vulnerable to harmful physical and mental outcomes. Products like rags, paper towels and reused pads put menstruators at a heightened risk for urogenital infections, such as urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis.
Poverty plays a large role in access to obtaining these products, but there is also cultural stigma around menstruation that causes embarrassment and feelings of shame for some people.
Though some countries have tried to support menstruators, there is still much work to be done – especially in the U.S, where 36 states have a tax on period solutions because they are considered “nonessential” goods. This creates a dilemma for low-income households because they are paying additional money they do not have for a basic need. People living in poverty may have to choose between buying food and buying period products, and they may also miss school while on their periods.
If you’re wondering what can be done, the answer lies in encouraging your legislators to abandon the Pink and Tampon Tax, as well as pursuing more legislative solutions to this issue.
You can also support organizations that are working to fight period poverty. One organization pushing to make a difference is PERIOD. Founded in 2014 by two 16-year-old high school students, PERIOD has addressed over 1 million periods through product distribution. Additionally, it has more than 700 registered chapters in all 50 states and more than 40 countries, which distribute menstrual products, run educational workshops, and fight for systemic change toward menstrual equality. Dignity Period is another organization worth supporting and donating toward. They partner with Mekelle University to conduct studies about the socioeconomic and cultural impact of periods and to provide education; at the same time, the nonprofit provides reusable menstrual pads to community members through Mebrahtu’s factory, which trains and employs women in the area.