Period Poverty: What Is It and How Can You Help?

An average of 800,000,000 people are menstruating on any given day. Of those 800,000,000, at least 500,000,000 of them lack access to resources to help them manage their periods. These resources include period products, sanitary areas to aid in period management, information about their periods, and support. Also known as Period Insecurity, Period Poverty is a problem facing people who menstruate, both in the United States and the rest of the world. Caused by tax laws surrounding period products and unequal access to them because of social factors, this widespread issue has led to a lack of education access and a sense of dehumanization in those affected. 

Many people are affected by Period Poverty, but some populations are more vulnerable than others. Homeless individuals are some of our poorest citizens. As mentioned before, menstrual products are not cheap and heavily taxed, which adds a barrier to lower-income households. Acquiring menstrual products can seem like a relatively low priority when they’re faced with other daily challenges like finding food or shelter. Even if they can get into a shelter, most homeless shelters aren’t provided with the funding to provide their residents with menstrual products, which adds to the barrier between homeless individuals and period products. People with disabilities are more than twice as likely as those without disabilities to face challenges with menstrual hygiene and access to materials necessary to manage their periods. While the stigma surrounding periods exist for all people who menstruate, 11.6% of those with disabilities report that they experience stigma because of their period. In comparison, only 7.2% of those without disabilities report experiencing stigma. It’s also worth mentioning that while Period Products were made free in federal prisons in 2018, around 200,000 people incarcerated a year were unable to access period products before this decision.

There are a few causes of Period Poverty, but one of the most influential factors is the luxury tax. In thirty-three states, including North Carolina, period products are still taxed as luxury goods, increasing their prices by up to 10%. In North Carolina, menstrual products are considered to be nonessential and are therefore subjected to higher taxes. While the statewide sales tax is around 4.75% (depending on where you’re buying), the additional tax can add 2-3% to your total cost. While North Carolina has categorized menstrual products as nonessential, most people who have experienced a period agree that pads, tampons, menstrual cups, and the like are necessary. When the prices of essential items are raised to such a high degree, it’s difficult for many people to afford them consistently.  families, especially low-income households, have to choose between period products and food.

Period Poverty has many adverse effects on those who suffer from it, primarily losing education access and a sense of dignity. When students are on their periods and have no products to help control the flow, many choose not to attend school. Periods aren’t easy to manage without access to menstrual products, and the stigma surrounding them is a strong motivator for children to stay home, lest they be picked apart by their peers. Periods are often viewed as dirty and shameful while it’s just a natural process that affects most of the population. Students not given access to products that allow them to retain their dignity under these circumstances are less likely to succeed in school, which is one of Period Insecurity’s most harmful effects. Just because someone cannot purchase period products should not mean that a person should feel less than human. Having no access to these hygiene products is not only a health concern, but it’s dehumanizing and can take a toll on mental health.

Often when people are presented with an issue, they want to help, but the way to do so isn’t always straightforward. Period Poverty isn’t an issue that’s going to be solved overnight, but there are a few things people can do to help make progress. One of the easiest ways to help people struggling with Period Poverty is to donate to existing charities. Groups like The Pad Project, Hope & Comfort, the Diaper Bank are working both in the United States and worldwide to combat Period Insecurity’s causes and effects. To help make a more direct impact in your community, an easy way to help out is to carry a “Period Kit” (suggested items listed below) in your car. These are similar to the bags with non-perishable snacks and water bottles some have to hand out to homeless people they encounter, but instead of food and water, they contain menstrual products. You can also contact local representatives and petition them to advocate for an end to Period Insecurity, including removing luxury tax from menstrual products. Every action people take to aid those suffering from Period Poverty’s effects brings us one step closer to a world where everyone can menstruate safely, cleanly, and with dignity.

 

PERIOD KITS

Option one:

  • Hand sanitizer (clear, unscented, without plastic beads/glitter)
  • Cleansing wipes (flushable wet toilet wipes)
  • A package of individually wrapped pads or tampons (tampons should have applicators, pads should have wings and be easy to walk in, all should be unscented)

Option two:

  • Hand sanitizer (clear, unscented, without plastic beads/glitter)
  • Cleansing wipes (flushable wet toilet wipes)
  • A package of individually wrapped pads (should have wings and be easy to walk in, unscented)
  • A package of individually wrapped tampons (with applicators, unscented)

Option three:

  • Hand sanitizer (clear, unscented, without plastic beads/glitter)
  • Cleansing wipes (flushable wet toilet wipes)
  • A package of individually wrapped pads (should have wings and be easy to walk in, unscented)
  • A package of individually wrapped tampons (with applicators, unscented)
  • A package of individually wrapped panty liners (decent adhesive to prevent chaffing, unscented)
  • A bottle of pain reliever (preferably Midol or Pamprin, but generic pain relievers like Advil or Tylenol are also good)

Option four:

  • Hand sanitizer (clear, unscented, without plastic beads/glitter)
  • Cleansing wipes (flushable wet toilet wipes)
  • A menstrual cup (silicone with easy to grip stem for removal)
  • Printed instructions for menstrual cup

Holy Grail:

  • Hand sanitizer (clear, unscented, without plastic beads/glitter)
  • Cleansing wipes (flushable wet toilet wipes)
  • A package of individually wrapped pads (should have wings and be easy to walk in, unscented)
  • A package of individually wrapped tampons (with applicators, unscented)
  • A package of individually wrapped panty liners (decent adhesive to prevent chaffing, unscented)
  • A menstrual cup (silicone with easy to grip stem for removal)
  • Printed instructions for menstrual cup
  • A bottle of pain reliever (preferably Midol or Pamprin, but generic pain relievers like Advil or Tylenol are also good.)

 

SOURCES

“Addressing Period Poverty and Hygiene Insecurity for Youth in Greater Boston”, Hope & Comfort, https://hopeandcomfort.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Addressing-Period-Poverty-and-Hygiene-Insecurity-for-Youth-in-Greater-Boston.pdf, July 2020.

Epstein, Rachel. “The Current State of the Tampon Tax—and How We’re Going to Eliminate It.” Marie Claire, 18 Oct. 2019, www.marieclaire.com/politics/a29490059/tampon-tax-state-guide.

Farrell, Kate, et al. Period: Twelve Voices Tell the Bloody Truth. Feiwel & Friends, 2018.

Holland, Kimberly. “Menstruation: Facts, Statistics, and You”, Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/facts-statistics-menstruation, 28 November 2018.

Lufadeju, Yemi. “FAST FACTS: Nine things you didn’t know about menstruation”, UNICEF, https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/fast-facts-nine-things-you-didnt-know-about-menstruation#_edn2, 25 May 2018.

McCarthy, Moira. “How These Groups Are Trying to Eliminate ‘Period Poverty’ and Menstruation Stigma.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 16 Mar. 2020, www.healthline.com/health-news/organizations-stigma-menstruation-period-poverty.

“The Multidimensional Poverty of Women with Disabilities.” Crawford School of Public Policy, 25 Mar. 2020, crawford.anu.edu.au/news-events/news/16362/multidimensional-poverty-women-disabilities.

Sanchez & Rodriguez, Erica & Leah. “Period Poverty: Everything You Need to Know”, Global Citizen, https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/period-poverty-everything-you-need-to-know/, 5 February 2019.

“The Unequal Price of Periods”, ACLU, https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/111219-sj-periodequity.pdf

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