Period Poverty Victimizes Women and Girls

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Period Poverty Victimizes Women and Girls

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Period poverty, when girls and women cannot afford menstrual products, plagues females around the world.

“On any given day, more than eight hundred million people are menstruating, and at least five hundred million of them lack adequate resources,” wrote Jennifer Weiss-Wolf in her book “Periods Gone Public.”

Despite this fact, periods remain taboo in most societies, and supplies are difficult to obtain for many women. While pads and tampons are readily available in American drugstores, period poverty applies here as well as in third-world countries. Impoverished, incarcerated, and homeless women especially experience extreme difficulty in accessing or affording feminine hygiene products.

“I think menstrual products are basic necessities. Every girl has a period, and you need pads or tampons to stay clean and to feel comfortable with yourself,” said Katlyn Jarrels, sophomore.

Time reported that American women spend about $2 billion annually on feminine hygiene products. According to The Nation, an American woman spends an average of $70 to $100 per year on menstrual products, which accumulates to about $3,000 for the period’s lifetime. Low-income women often cannot afford the typical boxes of 36 tampons and 36 pads, each of which costs $7. As a result, they often pay more in unit prices due to the fact that they cannot spare enough money to buy bulk packages.

This situation is worsened on Native American reservations, with average household incomes of about $17,000 and 20% of households making less than $5,000 per year, reported the Hoover Institute. On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, residents only have access to three supermarkets, resulting in higher prices, reported Huffington Post. In the Walmart in nearby Rapid City, a box of 18 Playtex tampons costs $3.97, while a box of 20 Playtex tampons costs $7.39 on the reservation.

Further aggravating the financial burden is the tampon tax. In America, 36 states, including Virginia, classify menstrual products as luxury goods. This tampon tax separates feminine hygiene products from untaxed necessities–such as food and prescription drugs – and subjects them to sales tax.

“Why would you do that? [Girls] need it for their periods. I wouldn’t want to pay a tax on something I needed,” said Arthur Lucia, sophomore.

According to the Tax Foundation, several states refuse to categorize menstrual products as necessities due to the resulting loss in revenue. States garner significant portions of taxes through pads and tampons, with California obtaining $20 million per year.

“[The] tampon tax doesn’t just signify female alienation. It represents active exclusion and unavoidable chastisement enforced upon women from birth,” wrote Girls Globe, a female advocacy organization for human rights.

In 2017, the Always Confidence & Puberty Survey found that almost one in five American girls “left school early or missed school entirely because they did not have access to period products.” According to Huffington Post, one high school girl on the reservation stated that about half of her friends routinely missed up to one week of school for every period due to their lack of menstrual supplies.

“If I didn’t have any menstrual products one day, I’d be crying. I’d be so uncomfortable and embarrassed. I probably wouldn’t go to cross country practice or school; I probably wouldn’t even leave the house,” said Grayson Lawrence, junior.

“[Menstrual products] seem important and a necessity everyone should have access to, but I can’t say much on the issue as I’ve never used one,” said Aist Rowland, junior.

The Huffington Post cited another girl’s dilemma: “After a young student lost her grandmother, who was her primary caretaker, she told [the school nurse] that she was considering getting pregnant. That way, she wouldn’t have to worry about buying tampons for a while.”

At Blacksburg High School, there may exist a local need for menstrual products as over the last six years, an average of 17.5% of students receive free or reduced-price lunches.

“I know some girls demonstrate a need for menstrual products, and I have some supplies in the back that they can use. Sometimes, there’s not a mom in the house so it’s awkward to ask dad about it. I’ve definitely noticed a need for menstrual products,” said Nurse Hall.

“Public schools should definitely offer free tampons and pads because people of all different economic classes attend, and you don’t know if everyone can afford it,” said Agustina Cordova, Senior.

Not only does period poverty impact school attendance, but it can also cause anxiety and depression, reported an Always survey. Out of 1,000 respondents, 500 endured period poverty, and two-thirds of them “admitted they lack confidence because of bullies at school, while 39 percent now suffer from anxiety or depression.”

Women, not just school-aged girls, also suffer from period poverty. The 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that 50,000 American women are homeless. While struggling to secure meals and temporary shelter, they often do not have the means to also procure feminine hygiene products. The 2016 AHAR to Congress revealed that homeless shelters often have high needs for pads and tampons, which are some of the least donated items.

A study by the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University detailed how one homeless shelter “provided only 2 pads per cycle, whereas the average woman uses approximately 20 tampons/pads per cycle.”

Even when homeless women obtain pads or tampons, they often face difficulties changing or disposing the used products. Some homeless shelters limit the number of times women can use their bathrooms, and privacy in public bathrooms is scant.

“Not only is it terrible, but it’s also embarrassing. Not to mention that now you have this stain on your pants. I only have the clothes that I’m wearing, so I’m standing there half naked, bloodied, you know, washing my clothes out,” said Kailah Willcuts, a homeless woman interviewed by Bustle.

Incarcerated women also face challenges in accessing and affording menstrual products. The Reproductive Injustice report by the Correctional Association of New York found “54 percent of survey respondents said they did not get enough sanitary napkins each month.”

Prison wages start from ten cents an hour, reported the Huffington Post, rendering many female inmates unable to afford extra menstrual products. In addition, many prisons require inmates to ask guards for pads or tampons, and one in New York “required menstruating prisoners to show their dirty pads as proof they needed extra,” reported Harper’s Bazaar.

According to the New York Times, even after making a request, officers may withhold menstrual products in order to exert control over prisoners. While some states classify this as a violation of the eighth amendment, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported that officers often receive no punishment for their abuse of power.

Prisons offering only one option of pads or tampons poses another problem. Global Citizen documented prisons accusing female prisoners who adapted pads into makeshift tampons of “possessing contraband.” In an effort to resolve this problem, Representative Athena Salman of Arizona introduced a bill in January 2018 that would mandate prisons in Arizona to provide women with unlimited menstrual products.

Period poverty also exists in developing countries. A United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) study approximates that ten percent of girls in sub-Saharan Africa skip school for their periods. World Bank reported that this could cause girls and female teachers to miss ten-to-twenty percent of the school year. A 2015 Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine study found that ten percent of 15-year-old girls in Kenya had transactional sex to obtain money for pads.

Also, refugees, who receive about $46 per week, often experience difficulty affording or accessing menstrual products, reported Bloody Good Period, a British project that provides period supplies to asylum seekers and refugees. Bloody Good Period documented how these women often resort to using toilet paper or fabric instead, which can cause reproductive tract and urinary tract infections and future fertility problems.  

The ability to access [menstrual products] affects a person’s freedom to work and study, to be healthy, and to participate in daily life with basic dignity,” wrote Weiss-Wolf.

To combat this international phenomenon, numerous governments and organizations have taken action. Scotland took one of the most radical steps in August 2018, instituting a governmental program to equip schools and universities with free menstrual products. The government funded the new program with $6.4 million and will cover 395,000 students. Aileen Campbell, the communities secretary, stressed the program’s mission to diminish periods’ influence in deciding school attendance.

“I think America should do something like that and even include stuff in all restrooms. Once, I was in Barnes and Noble, and I paid 25 cents for a tampon, but nothing was in there,” said Lawrence.

Hey Girls, “the only Buy One Give One period product social enterprise,” sells bleach-and-chlorine free menstrual products in the United Kingdom. For every box sold, Hey Girls gives a free box to low-income women. Their website also allows customers to donate supplies with the same Buy-One-Give-One rule. To raise awareness, the company released a newspaper ad that showed a cutout of a pad. The pad’s back displays the message, “One in ten girls in the UK can’t afford sanitary products. Every month they’re forced to use loo roll, socks, or even newspaper.”

While Kenya is home to some of the worst cases of period poverty, the government is striving to curb the issue. The Menstrual Health in Kenya report by Foundation Strategy Group (FSG) noted that the Kenyan Ministry of Education initiated the National Sanitary Towel Programme in 2010. The program supplies school girls with menstrual supplies and trains teachers on the period’s basics. Still far from achieving supplies for all, it is brainstorming solutions for providing rural areas access to supplies and making them more affordable for the impoverished.

In addition, Megan Mukuria, a Harvard University graduate, founded ZanaAfrica Foundation in 2007. The organization works closely with the Kenyan government and FSG to “[support] adolescent girls in Kenya to stay in school by delivering reproductive health education and sanitary pads.” To do so and attempt to remove the taboo on menstruation, it distributed a comic book about menstruation, and its partner, ZanaAfrica Group, manufactures low-cost pads. One of ZanaAfrica Foundation’s most notable accomplishments was contributing to the Kenyan government’s decision in 2018 to incorporate pads into the national education budget.

Huru International, another non-profit that provides relief for period poverty in Africa, conducted a study in Kenya that researched the correlation between school attendance and access to menstrual products. It found that before supplying pads, 37% of girls missed no days of school on their periods, and after, 80% of girls missed no days. This finding further fuels the Kenyan effort to fight period poverty.

In America, several nonprofits and companies have also joined the mission of ending period poverty. Proctor & Gamble’s Always and Kimberly-Clark’s U by Kotex, two giants in the feminine supply industry, launched individual campaigns. Always partnered with Feeding America with the goal “to donate 15 million period products to girls in need this school year.” The brand encouraged people to use the hashtag #EndPeriodPoverty on Instagram; Always donated a month’s worth of pads for each use.

U by Kotex started the Period Projects, which give period supplies to homeless shelters and other women in need. To do so, it became the “founding sponsor” of the nonprofit, Alliance for Period Supplies, in May 2018. U by Kotex’s website proclaims it has “donated over 2 million period products” and will “donate millions more.”    

In addition, LOLA sells 100% organic cotton tampons and other menstrual products online. Similar to Hey Girls UK, LOLA donates products to their partners for every purchase. It also spreads awareness about period poverty by encouraging people to use the hashtag #TamponsAreNotALuxury on social media.

In the political scene, several states, including Virginia, have introduced legislation to end the tampon tax. The proposed Dignity Act would remove the tax on menstrual supplies; however, similar bills did not make it through the House Finance subcommittee, reported the Washington Post. Another bill would make menstrual products tax-exempt on the annual tax-free weekend. In 2017, the bill was unsuccessful, but Holly Seibold, a champion of more affordable menstrual products, believes the bill may find a different fate due to 11 newly voted female delegates of the 2017 elections.

To help support the mission to end period poverty, you can donate money or supplies to various organizations, such as Bloody Good Period or local homeless shelters.


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