Why Tampons and Pads Should Be Free

When was the last time you walked into a restroom unsure if toilet paper would be waiting for you when you needed it? When was the last time you had to carry around emergency toilet paper in your bag just in case no toilet paper would be provided for you?

Let me answer that: you didn’t and you don’t because you know that whenever you need it toilet paper will be in reach, even if you have to go to another stall or another bathroom, eventually you will find some relief. Unfortunately for women, this is not the reality when they are on their periods. Tampons and pads serve the same purpose as toilet paper to ensure cleanliness for everyday bodily functions.

So why aren’t they treated the same? If men got their periods, would tampons and pads be provided in public spaces such as bathrooms? For employers and schools to provide pads and tampons in bathrooms, it would cost about $4.67 per female student and employee. So for the cost of a coffee from Starbucks companies can ensure the safety of their female employees. When tampons and pads aren’t available, the alternatives women and girls use can be extremely detrimental to their health. Some of these alternatives include old rags, leaves, keeping one tampon in or pad on for long periods of time because they can’t afford more than a small box. This can lead to embarrassment if girls begin to leak through their clothing and even infection .

I remember when I first got my period. Like most girls it came without unexpectadly. I was in middle school. On a school day just like any other, I was walking to my next class when I noticed that my uniform stockings felt damp. I went to the bathroom to further investigate and I found that my underwear and tights were stained with blood. Luckily for me, however, my school tights were black and our uniform skirt was a thick wool so the bleeding wasn’t obvious. I ran to the nurse’s office to ask for a pad, but she informed me that pads cost $2, which I did not have at the time. I begged her to give me the pad for free, promising to bring back two dollars tomorrow, but, despite my pleas, she turned away and suggested that I call home to be picked up. I missed half a day of school that day, but some girls miss way more.

In extreme cases, girls miss school during their periods simply because they cannot afford the proper products and, as a result, must stay home. There is a stigma attached with periods, a shame that is taught to boys and girls from an early age. We are taught that periods are dirty as opposed to a natural bodily function such as peeing. We are also taught that girls who are on their periods are unclean, which is why it isn't a surprise that girls do not wish to attend school and face the embarrassment that comes along with their periods.

That’s about 10 weeks of school missed per year. 10 weeks of school missed because these girls have no access to the products they need. If something as simple as a pad or tampon can keep a girl in school and engaged when she is in class, then why aren’t they offered? Is it because a girl’s education is not as important as her male classmates? Not having pads and tampons free in schools shows girls that their needs don’t matter.

You might be thinking to yourself: "Well, pads can’t be that expensive. Surely the parents of these young girls can find the money to purchase a package of pads." Well, in the U.S nearly one in five kids aged 12-17 live in poverty and, at $7-10 a package plus sales tax in 40 states, there are many families that cannot afford to provide these goods for their daughters. Women spend about $70 per year on pads and tampons. And the average woman buys and throws away about 11,000 tampons in their lifetime. Families who rely on Food Stamps to provide essentials  are in a particularly difficult position as feminine hygiene products are not covered. For homeless women it is even harder to get these products as the Federal Emergency Management Agency does not allow homeless assistance funds to be used for feminine hygiene products despite soap, adult diapers, toothpaste, and underwear being covered.

But why are tampons and pads taxed in the first place? The government is taxing women for something that is completely out of their control. Trust me, no one asks for their period. Necessary goods are exempt from sales tax, including rogaine, chapstick, face wash, condoms, mustard, food coloring, and fruit rollups. More states tax tampons than they do candy. So I can eat a 5 pound bag of sour patch kids but can’t ensure my period doesn’t leak through my pants. It doesn’t stop there. Several women’s products are priced higher than men’s, despite women making less. Shampoo and conditioner marketed to women cost an average 48 percent more than men’s. Women’s razors and deodorant also cost more.

So what can we do to help? Educate, volunteer, and speak out! Show young girls their education and needs matter; sign petitions and support laws which aim to provide these girls the products they need for free. Finally, when donating supplies to homeless shelters, make sure to include feminine hygiene products.