Though about half of the world’s population, at some point in their life, experience a period, many women face a lack of access to affordable menstrual products and sanitation necessary to remain in school or work and avoid adverse health effects. This health issue is known as “Period Poverty,” and it affects many already marginalized menstruators, typically those of low socioeconomic status. There is a double burden among these women who both lack access to appropriate care and face stigma in advocating for accommodations for their normal bodily functions. Though most of the barriers limiting women’s access to menstrual products are financial, there are other challenges as well, including state policy that continues to make poor menstruators poorer.
The Cost of the Period
On average, menstruation begins between the ages of 11 and 14 and cycle, between every 24 to 38 days, until the age of 51. These periods will last between 2 and 7 days, with most menstruators experiencing periods in the 3 – 5-day range. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends changing pads and tampons at least every 4 – 8 hours, meaning that the average menstruator will go through at least 12 pads or tampons per period. With a cost of about 30 cents per pad or tampon in the United States, the average woman will spend $3.60 on menstrual products each month, and $1,728 over the course of 40 years, conservatively.
Although some of this cost is attributable to the products themselves, in most U.S. states, there is an additional sales tax applied to sanitary products, often called the “tampon tax” or the “pink tax.” This tax is an additional sales tax ranging from 4 – 10% in some states. Presently 30 states employ a “tampon tax” which costs an American menstruator an extra $100 – $225 over the course of their lifetime. While the cost of sanitary products and their associated taxes may seem negligible at first glance, purchasing these items can amount to a considerable burden for lower-income Americans, and represents an unlawful inequality. But the burdens that make up period poverty are not only financial.
Many low-income menstruators, when faced with their period and the daunting cost associated with it, will often resort to harmful alternatives, including toilet paper or rags. As expected, these substitutions can lead to negative health outcomes, including urinary tract infections, yeast infections, toxic shock syndrome (TSS) and contact dermatitis when used habitually. Even in homeless shelters that offer free sanitary products, the amount offered is often too little per cycle to provide any real benefit.
How Can I Alleviate Period Poverty?
There are several ways you can help alleviate period poverty. One way to do so is to consciously carry around extra menstrual products to provide to strangers or leave in the restroom for others who might need them. Alternatively, you can see whether local food or donation centers will accept donations of period products. If you are involved in your workplace or local school, you can advocate for bathrooms to be well stocked with complimentary period products to be used or taken by anyone who needs them and include this service as part of a monthly budget. Maintaining the comfort and security of half the world’s population is a necessity, and alleviating period poverty is a huge step towards that goal. Even one pad can make a difference.