It happens to a lot of menstruating women: you go about your daily routine until you discover you've just gotten your period. You feel frightened, vulnerable, and exposed after the clumsy search for a restroom and the ardent hope that you had a menstruation product with you. This is exacerbated by the fact that our society stigmatizes menstruation — or, for that matter, anything having to do with the uterus — and these topics are forbidden.
If you're one of the almost 22 million women in the United States living in poverty because they can't afford menstrual hygiene supplies, you're experiencing period poverty. According to a study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 64% of women have had trouble purchasing period items like pads, tampons, or reusable goods like menstrual cups. And 21% said they couldn't afford to buy these items on a monthly basis. People who are homeless or incarcerated are more likely to lack proper menstrual hygiene supplies.
Why is it considered a luxury to use period products?
Menstruation is an unavoidable aspect of life. Menstrual hygiene items should be considered necessities rather than indulgences. Menstrual products are not covered by food stamps or WIC (women, infants, and children) subsidies.
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People who have heavy periods and need to change their pads or tampons frequently experience financial difficulties since they need to buy more pads or tampons than the average menstrual person. They may have vulvar irritation and vaginal discomfort if they try to extend the life of items by using them for many hours at a time. They may also be more susceptible to toxic shock syndrome, a potentially fatal infection.
Why is it vital to talk about period stigma?
To understand and address the issues people confront when it comes to access to menstrual hygiene products, we need to eliminate the stigma around menstruation. Poverty is a reality. Period equity should also be genuine. Embarrassment or taboos may hinder people from speaking up for themselves, but if that stigma is removed — or even alleviated — we can move forward as a society to fulfil the needs of half of our population. When half of the population suffers financial and physical hardship as a result of the reproductive cycle required to guarantee human survival, there is no equality.
What can we do about period poverty?
Period poverty can be solved with ease. The first is to remove the VAT on menstruation products from the equation. Consider this: just as food is not taxed since it is a necessity for all of us, menstruation products should not be taxed. To reduce waste from individually wrapped pads and tampons, reusable products such as menstruation cups or undergarments should be subsidized and their use encouraged. More women may choose these goods if they are known, promoted, and inexpensive. In schools and federal buildings, free pads and tampons should be offered (note: automatic download).
Finally, you have the option to take action by writing or calling your representatives. Representative Grace Meng introduced the Menstrual Equity For All Act of 2019, which was introduced on March 26, 2019, but never received a vote. There is no clear reason why this bill, which would provide free menstrual hygiene supplies to homeless individuals, incarcerated persons, students, and federal employees, was never brought up for a vote. We live in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, and a lack of menstrual hygiene supplies should never prevent someone from working or attending school. It's past time for persons with uteruses to be treated as second-class citizens.