Period poverty: Probably a term that you have heard of before. But, what does it actually mean, and how can you help as an individual? Put very simply, period poverty refers to the economic barriers that many menstruators face due to a lack of access to pads and tampons.
Where does period poverty start?
Period poverty is a cycle, and it all starts with the government’s unwillingness to mandate that businesses and public institutions provide menstrual products, and the instilling of a tampon tax. Currently, in 33 U.S. states, tampons are taxed as ‘luxury goods’ meaning that people have to pay an additional sales tax for that good. Meanwhile, other health-related goods are tax exempt, and considered ‘luxury items.’ Coincidentally, male health products like viagra, are tax exempt; while tampons and pads are deemed luxuries, alongside items like alcohol, hairdryers, and cigarettes. Because the government does not consider menstrual products a medical necessity, the legal barrier to period products is solidifying, meaning that prisons, educational institutions, and public facilities are not obligated to provide the products.
Now, I know what you’re asking: But why does our government not consider pads and tampons necessities? The answer is fairly simple: sexism and menstrual stigma. For as long as patriarchy has existed, men have taken advantage of women through a means of bodily repression, and menstruation was a perfect opportunity to do so. As of 2019, only 23.7% of women occupy seats in United States Congress; only 19% of local positions are filled by women; and only 24.5% of state legislature seats are occupied by women. We are making progress - especially after the 2018 midterms - but we are far from fully realizing equitable political representation.
Of course, because men occupy the majority of governmental roles in the United States, it makes the recognition of traditionally female issues far more difficult to be represented and let alone passed through any legislature.
How does period poverty impact people?
Because our government does not actively work against - and in many cases supports - menstrual inequities, a large portion of our population is left dehumanized, and unable to afford basic necessities. According to the 2018 Shriver Report, around 45 million menstruating people in the United States live in, or near poverty. In fact, women are 38% more likely to live in poverty than men. Despite this, most American programs like Food
Stamps and Medicaid, designed to assist low-income families in acquiring necessities, exclude menstrual products.
This leads menstruating people to have to choose between putting food on the table, paying for education, or providing for one’s family, with managing their periods healthily. As Nicole Johnson, an advocate for an end to period poverty, told CBS, “The average mother will put food on the table for their children with the last five in her pocket and she will sacrifice the things that she needs.”
But this is not simply an issue of being able to afford something: period poverty bleeds into education and careers, preventing people from maintaining their livelihoods. 1 in 5 women drop out of school, or are forced into unemployment due to an inability to maintain their periods. We suppress menstruating voices to the point that people are literally unable to attend school and work, only continuing the cycle of period poverty.
Menstruating people have no choice in the matter of periods - it is simply biological. Thus, regardless of financial or social situation, everyone who needs them should be able to obtain pads, tampons, or menstrual cups.
How can you help end period poverty?
The first step in ending period poverty is normalizing menstruation and destroying taboos that surround the natural process - but you already know that!
In reality, we need to get policy and change-makers behind us. We must band together to make menstrual products, sanitation, and hygiene easily accessible. We must demand that governments prioritize menstrual equity policy, and challenge the historically male-dominant and patriarchal legislation. We must letter-write, vote for candidates who support menstrual equity, and protest to end the tampon tax.
While we stay in the fight, we have to do our best to provide menstrual products to people who would not have access to them otherwise. This involves reaching out to local businesses and demanding that they provide menstrual products to their customers, negotiate with school administrators, and donate to local shelters and women’s providers.
Because shelters often do not receive menstrual products, Bleed Shamelessly will be taking all of the funds that we have made in the last year and purchasing menstrual products to donate to period-havers in need in the Dane County area. Please consider donating to Bleed Shamelessly - because at the end of December we will be purchasing as many menstrual products as possible to donate! Use this link to commit to ending period poverty!