Art by Amber Shin
In a society that over-stigmatizes menstruation, many of those who menstruate said they are left feeling anxious, vulnerable and fragile over something that is completely natural.
Over 22 million women in the U.S. alone are living in poverty and lack resources to menstrual hygiene products — known as period poverty, according to Harvard Health. There is no one-size-fits-all cure to this issue, as it differs all over the world.
While menstruating is an inevitable part of the human existence, hygiene products are considered a luxury. Those who are without a home or are incarcerated are at a higher risk of not having adequate access to these products, Harvard Health wrote.
While most of the problem lies in finding the resources, there is a larger financial issue. Food stamps and subsidies under The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, help with purchasing groceries, but they do not include feminine products. Many countries outside of the U.S. face this issue more severely — such as Nepal, where they practice menstrual exile, and Venezuela, where the price of tampons increased by 1800% in 2016, according to Action Aid.
While not as extreme as developing nations, the Government of Canada does not require all schools and workplaces to offer free products. In November 2020, Scotland became the first country to offer free pads and tampons.
In the U.S., 17 states have passed legislation to ensure students who menstruate have free access to period products while in school, according to Global Citizen. In fact, 57% of students said they feel their school doesn’t care about them if they don’t provide free period products in the bathrooms, according to Period.org.
One-third of people under the age of 25 struggle to afford period products, and it can cost upward of $6,000 to purchase these products in a lifetime, according to Citron. People with heavier periods require more products and can face a financial challenge because they are buying more than others. Those who attempt to use products longer than health officials advise can develop toxic shock syndrome, which according to Harvard, is a life-threatening infection.
Period Equity is a U.S. legal campaign to remove the tampon tax and fight for free and safe menstrual products, according to Periodequity.org. Those at Period Equity wrote they are working to fight against the issue so menstruation never poses a barrier to civic engagement and democratic participation.
The shame surrounding periods is contributing to the financial and physical distress of the reproduction cycle, and the stigma is even greater for transgender individuals who menstruate, according to Period Equity.
Period poverty is nothing short of a global issue, according to UNICEF. This leads people to use rags or leaves as period products — or leads to severe depression, or causes people to skip meals or take medication to combat their period.
For those who lack access to clean water, managing hygiene is even more difficult. It is also hard for those who cannot attend school and don’t have the foundation of sex education.
To end period poverty globally, we must first eliminate the tax on menstrual products. Think of other basic human rights that are not taxed — such as food. Period products should not be taxed either.
Reusable products should also be subsidized to eliminate excess waste from individually wrapped products, thus making them more affordable and accessible.
Every workplace and school should also have mandated free products. We can write to our legislators through the 2019 Menstrual Equity For All Act.
Some specific organizations working to end period poverty include PERIOD — a charity sending menstrual products to those in need. This includes donating to over 350 organizations that ship products worldwide. They also work with the basic ethic that period rights are human rights, according to their website.
“The menstrual movement is a youth-led movement, where we hope to amplify the voices of young activists in their efforts to make systematic change to combat period poverty,” PERIOD wrote on their website.
Other organizations, such as Days For Girls, created specific sustainable products people can use for several months. These products include the Days for Girls pad, which is washable and reusable. A care package the organization sends out to those in developing nations may also include underwear, soap and washcloths.
In an over-sexualized world, the stigma around periods can come from shame, miseducation and sexism. General global rates of poverty also contribute to period deprivation and the need for change — and worldwide empowerment.
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