Period Poverty

You may have heard the term “period poverty” recently; it’s taken over Instagram—sponsored posts and ads and seems to be on everyone’s feed. Leading the charge in populating people’s screens with these well-animated videos and nicely staged photos is Always, a major manufacturer of feminine hygiene products. I like to consume my social media with a healthy dose of skepticism, so when I stumbled upon my first one of these advertisements, I was concerned that there may be an ulterior motive in a period product maker making posts about getting people access to period products. It seems, well, sketchy. But after digging deeper, this catchy phrase, “period poverty” is really referring to a long ignored public health and wellbeing issue—getting menstruating people the supplies they need to have a safe cycle.

    Menstrual cycles have long been a source of shame for the people who experience them. I’m sure we all remember having to sneak a tampon or pad into our pocket in middle school before quietly asking the teacher to use the bathroom. Despite the fact that half of the population menstruates in their lifetime, and at any given time, there are 800 million people experiencing their period, it is still a taboo subject to talk about in public. And just as taboo, if not more so, is talking about the ways we cope with our periods. Even in women’s restrooms, there is still a stigma around using period products. It wasn’t that long ago (2013 to be exact) that Tampax Radiant tampons came out for the first time, with one of its major selling features being its “quieter wrapper”. Is all this shame around a very natural occurrence for people with vaginas the reason why related health products are seen as a luxury?

    We’ve all been there: staring at the wall of tampons, pads, and liners in the “feminine care aisle”. The options are overwhelming, and the prices - well, they suck. Without these products, periods are a public health issue. It is not safe to freely menstruate. And yet, those who experience a menstrual cycle shell out extra money nearly every month to buy the products they need to stay clean and keep others safe. Out of the 50 states, 35 have taxes on period products, which are seen as “non-essential goods” (you may have heard this as part of a related debate surrounding the “pink tax”). But what happens when that extra money is the difference between having a meal or going hungry? What if you don’t have that extra money at all? What if you don’t have access to these products in the first place? These issues are at the foundation of the issue of period poverty.

    According to a recent study, 1 out of 5 girls in America will miss at least some school because she doesn’t have access to period products. In India, only 12% of menstruating individuals have access to proper hygienic solutions, often resorting to using rags or sawdust in the place of tampons, pads, liners, or cups. In the UK, 1 in 10 teenage girls hasn’t been able to afford feminine hygiene products; 1 in 7 has borrowed hygiene products from a friend because they couldn’t afford their own. Period poverty is a global issue and a lack of safe, clean period solutions can lead to urinary tract and reproductive infections. In America, underprivileged and homeless individuals are disproportionately affected by costly period supplies. Fortunately, it appears some headway is being made. Grace Meng, a senator from New York recently put forth the “Menstrual Equity for All Act”, which would make feminine hygiene products free for incarcerated people who have a period, allow federal funding to be used to buy pads for school age individuals, and require pads and tampons to be covered by Medicaid.

    The possibility of a bill like this is being passed into law is exciting, especially given the fact that American women are 38% more likely to live in poverty than men. So, for people with periods who have lower incomes, this extra cost (estimated to be somewhere around $5000 over a menstruating person’s lifetime), being eliminated from the list of expenses people with vaginas have just to maintain care of their reproductive system (OB/GYN visits, feminine health products, birth control and contraceptives) would make a significant difference. 

    For those looking to dig a little deeper, I found these articles to be really informative: