The Cruel Reality of Period Poverty

Thursday, March 18

By Lauren Martin

Warning: Sexual assault, misogyny

Every person with a period dreads the awful, red sight that occurs monthly. If we are lucky enough to have leftover products from the previous month, we often will use those to tie us over before heading to the nearest store to purchase a box of our preferred products. In the case that we don't have any leftover supplies, panic emerges. We use anything available to prevent staining and bleeding out. For many women, the terror of not having any supplies lasts the entire length of her cycle- and prevents her from everyday responsibilities, such as school or work. A lack of access to these products contributes to gender inequality- what can we do to help women internationally? 

In many parts of rural Africa, A large number of menstruating girls drop out of school due to a lack of access to feminine hygiene products. Girls without access to these products are often bullied and harassed by their peers due to the inability to keep themselves clean. In addition to the bullying and harassment these girls face, they are left with an additional obstacle: male predators. As girls in this culture are deemed 'sexually available' when they reach the age of menstruation, if predatory men were to find out, the girls will be followed home, sexually harassed, and even raped. In The Double X Economy by Linda Scott, an Oxford professor and founder of the Global Business Coalition for Women's Economic Empowerment, details a pilot project she founded in Accra, Ghana during 2008- in which free pads were provided to girls, hoping this would prevent girls from dropping out of school. Giving these girls pads allowed them to keep their periods hygienic and a secret- hopefully, resulting in girls staying in school longer- if other reasons to drop out do not occur- such as becoming a child bride or bearing children. 

Period poverty is not only an international issue. A survey conducted of low-income women in a major city in the United States found that two-thirds of low-income women could not afford menstrual supplies in the previous year. Many of these women could also not afford both menstrual supplies and food- leaving them having to choose between the two. Despite pads and tampons being classified as "medical devices" by the FDA, the IRS does not follow the same guidelines- resulting in an inability to use Health Savings Account(HSA's), a type of health insurance where pre-taxed dollars are set aside monthly to pay for future medical needs, to pay for the products. Additionally, period supplies cannot be purchased with government grocery-assistance programs such as WIC or SNAP- as a result; impoverished women are left with incredibly limited resources to obtain sanitary products. 

 As a result of these obstacles, many have to turn to unfavorable alternatives- such as rags, tissue, toilet paper, paper towels- and sometimes even diapers. According to the American Medical Women's Association, a large contributor to this issue is the "Pink" or "Tampon tax"- in which in 35 states tax period products as luxury goods. In contrast, male grooming products and erectile dysfunction medication is not taxed. 

Some Western companies, Such as L., offer consumers the ability to help with this crisis by donating one period care item with every purchase. Other organizations, like The Period project, make period products available to girls in need in local communities. However, despite these efforts, more must be done to eradicate period poverty. Government assistance is one method of expanding the availability of products. For instance, In November of 2020, Scotland became the first country to make period products free to those in need. Two years prior to the enactment of the law, Scotland had passed legislation that would provide free period products to all students at schools and Universities. The new law, which was built upon the previous legislation, will also make these products available in public buildings and offer a 'reasonable' variety of products and the option to have the supplies delivered. The efforts made by Scotland are significant, and if other countries follow in their parliament's footsteps, we may have the ability to make period poverty a thing of the past.

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