In honor of Women’s History Month, I wanted to highlight an issue that affects women not only here in the US but all over the world: the issue of period poverty. Period poverty is the inability to buy menstrual products due to a lack of finances. As a woman having a period is a normal part of life. For many women, myself included, it is not always a pleasant part of life, but it is a part nonetheless. In addition to the physical and emotional tolls, it is also very costly. Reports say that in a woman’s lifetime, she can spend almost $18,000 on menstrual products. In 35 states here in the US, menstrual products have a “pink tax” applied to them because they are seen as non-essential goods. However, Viagra and Rogaine, products created for men, are not taxed extra. Consider, that a woman only makes 80 cents to a man’s dollar, you can imagine how this affects us over time.
Many women who cannot afford menstrual products say that they have to “free flow” while they have their periods. Free flowing is exactly what is sounds like: letting the blood flow freely on their clothes. As any woman knows this is incredibly uncomfortable and can be embarrassing when it stains your clothes. (I do know that there are women who forgo using any products and choose to free flow, but this is not the same thing). Having a period is uncomfortable and it makes it even more uncomfortable if you are worried about ruining your clothes or staining furniture.
One of the ways in which period poverty greatly affects girls is by forcing them to miss school if they do not have the necessary products during their periods. Here in the United States, 1 in 5 girls reported missing school due to a lack of period protection. This creates an imbalance in terms of education which then leads to a lack of opportunities thus creating a vicious cycle of gender-based poverty.
There are many ways that we can work to end period poverty. One of the ways in which we can work to create menstrual equity is by destigmatizing the taboo around our periods. Menstruation is a normal part of life. Over half the population has or will have their period in their lifetimes. There is nothing to be ashamed of and we must teach our girls that our bodies are what bring life into the world. We should be proud of it.
In the same way that free breakfast and lunch are provided to students that are in need, pads and tampons should be available to students as well. Pads and tampons should also be freely provided to inmates and available to women who need them living in homeless shelters. Many women living in prison and homeless shelters have shared similar stories of not being given pads or tampons when they asked.
If you’re interested in finding out more or ways in which you can help, there are many organizations that are trying to end period poverty:
- Check out Period: End of Sentence on Netflix. It’s a short documentary about the period taboo in India and how women are working to create change in this area and in their own lives.
- Support organizations like Cora, https://cora.life, or L, https://thisisl.com. Both sell all natural pads and tampons, but also give back to women in need such as providing a month’s worth of pads or supporting women owned business.
- Don’t be ashamed of your period and encourage those around you to take pride in their bodies. The shame and embarrassment of our bodies is often taught to us by our family and friends. I can think of many instances growing up where I have been embarrassed because of my period or saw people hiding their periods. As I’ve gotten older, it’s occurred to me that this is a normal part of life. I’m a healthy 20 something year old woman and I menstruate once a month. If anyone has a problem, the problem is theirs not mine.
There are many issues in today’s world that don’t have an easy fix, period poverty is not one of them. We must push our governments to support menstrual equity so that pads and tampons are provided at no cost in schools, shelters, and prisons. The pink tax needs to be abolished, and we need to create an environment of acceptance surrounding menstruation. The only thing that a period should end, is a sentence.