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  • Writer's pictureErin Stevens

Improving Period Poverty

I don't think anyone has ever said this ever, but you can get the pin at

The issue of period poverty is becoming increasingly recognized, but improvement has been slow. Period poverty - the lack of access to use of sufficient menstrual products for any reason - is surprisingly prevalent. Up to one in four menstruators has been personally impacted by this problem. People who are privileged to not have experienced the issue - non-menstruators or those who have always been able to access the products they need - often fail to realize the impact that this can have on a person.

Some people lack access to supplies due to financial issues. Depending on the brand and number of tampons, a box typically costs around $5-15. Despite the necessity of these items, 33 US states tax menstrual supplies as "luxury" products (the so-called "tampon tax"), adding further to their price. I am lucky enough to be able to walk into a store and buy a box if I need to without thinking twice about it. For some people, that can be a difficult decision, as purchasing the tampons may mean forgoing a meal (or a few). In a world where many people have excess wealth, it's heartbreaking that there are others who have to prioritize basic human needs.

People experiencing homelessness - whether having the financial means to purchase products or not - may not be able to easily keep products on hand or access clean and safe bathrooms in order to change a tampon, pad, or menstrual cup.

Students in schools cannot consistently access the supplies they need. Many young people have irregular periods after they first start menstruating, and it can be difficult to predict when supplies are needed. They may then be unprepared when bleeding begins. They also often have to depend on their parents for purchase of these products, which creates an extra barrier in households that are low-income or in which there are not open lines of communication regarding topics like periods. In many schools, students must request to see the school nurse and then pay if a tampon or pad is needed. Students are often limited in when they can take bathroom breaks and feel embarrassment when they must rationalize needing to do so due to menstruation.

Inmates are legally supposed to receive free menstrual products, but often they are allotted only a certain amount each month, have to request the items from officers who restrict their access, or must use their commissary funds to purchase them. Period products many times become "bargaining chips" among inmates.

Many workers lack the opportunity for sufficient bathroom breaks or a place to store menstrual products as needed throughout the day. Amazon is now notorious for essentially forcing employees to go without bathroom breaks in order to meet fulfillment demands.

There are many other people who experience period poverty. Those who do end up going without products, using other items like ripped portions of old clothes or wadded up toilet paper, or trying to stretch out use of products. This is unhygienic and can ultimately become unsafe from a medical standpoint. It perpetuates stress and anxiety. It can be socially stigmatizing and obstruct people from school, work, job interviews, family events, and other important activities.

How do we make this better?

Talk about periods. This will make some people uncomfortable to start. But the more commonplace it is for periods to come up in conversation, the less shame people will feel for experiencing something so normal and the more people will care about others being able to manage the process accordingly.

Eliminate the tampon tax. Australia did it. The United States and other countries should be able to do it just as easily.

Donate period products to shelters and food shelves. Yes, that's a shameless plug for a good cause.

Make period products freely available in schools, places of work, prisons, and public places.

Advocate for legislation that improves access to menstrual products for all.

Join a local PERIOD chapter and go to PERIOD CON 2020.

Support access to all methods of contraception, as many can improve period symptoms.

There's no reason that a human function that about half the population experiences at some point in their lives should be so problematic. Let's end period poverty.

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