Period Poverty: What it is, Why it Matters, and What You Can Do

Period poverty. Do you know what it is? And do you know that 35 states in the U.S. consider boxes of pads or tampons luxury goods and tax these items? Period poverty is an umbrella term for inequities related to menstruation worldwide. Sales tax is only one barrier to afford menstrual hygiene. In the United States, more women than men live in poverty, and period products cannot be purchased with food stamps, Medicaid, or health insurance spending accounts. 

Students, low-income, and homeless women and girls, transgender and non-binary people and those who are imprisoned also struggle with period poverty. And not being able to care adequately for yourself during your time of the month brings shame and indignity to people. For example, people experiencing homelessness may not be able to wash at night or if they are at shelters, the staff may not be generous with the distributions of pads or tampons. 

period poverty
Source: Pixabay

According to the National Education Association, one in five teens struggles to afford menstrual products. And 84 percent of students say they have missed school, or they know someone who has because they couldn’t afford to purchase products. Some teachers and school nurses have taken it upon themselves to pay for and to keep a stash on hand for students who need them. 

In 2017, seeing period poverty as a real and growing problem, California became the first state to tackle the issue with a law, requiring schools to keep free menstrual supplies in at least half of the bathrooms in middle and high schools where at 40 percent of the students in the district live in poverty. Illinois, New York, New Hampshire followed suit, and at least seven other states have introduced similar bills. 

But because more than 86 percent of women have unexpectedly started their period in public without having supplies they’ve needed, according to Free the Tampons data, forcing people to create an unhygienic solution from toilet paper and other non-menstrual product items, more needs to be done. This is where companies like Egal Pads on a Roll come in. 

Egal Pads on a Roll believes biological functions should be treated equally. Founded by Whole Champions Tom Devlin (whose wife’s article on period poverty written for the Boston Globe inspired him) and CEO Penelope Finnie, Egal Pads on a Roll manufactures pads on a roll that can be dispensed in every public bathroom just as easily as toilet paper. Their website says, “No one carries around toilet paper, so why should anyone have to carry around period products?” 

The company, based on Somerville, Massachusetts, permits anyone to order a case of the pads and the roll dispensers, but they partner with universities, schools, and nonprofits, such as the University of New Hampshire, Williams College, Love Your Menses, ISSA (and their End Period Poverty Campaign), and the Maranyundo Initiative, that provides free period products to girls schools in Rwanda. 

period poverty
Source: Pixabay

PERIOD, the Menstrual Movement, is an organization with 400 chapters worldwide that work with 350 organizations to distribute free period products, in boxed with Aunt Flow on the side, and who work to eradicate poverty in communities. They also provide education, as they say “menstrual equity combats both period poverty and stigma. PERIOD empowers local activists with grassroots training and education to find an approach that is compatible with their community.” They look for intersectional approaches to menstrual equity, and they advocate for systemic changes to policies and legislation as they want to end period poverty in our lifetime. 

tampon period poverty
Source: Pixabay

These are just two organizations who are championing changes worldwide when it comes to period poverty. But other Whole Champions doing things to educate, advocate, and affect change include Amika George, Aisha Siddiqui, Savannah Stucky, Laura Niehorster, Isabella White, and Bimini Love (among others), all of whom have given impassioned TedTalks on the subject of period poverty. 

So if we’ve never considered this topic and how it affects girls’ education, the work of women, and people who are imprisoned or experiencing homelessness, take a moment and think about it. Watch the TedTalks. Consider donating to PERIOD or another nonprofit focused on this issue. In what other ways can you be a part of the solution? 


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