Pads and Tampons Should Be Free…For Everyone!

Every month, for those assigned female at birth, their bodies prepare for pregnancy, as they become closer and closer to the end of puberty. The menstrual blood is partly blood, and partly tissue. This happens because hormones in the body are changing, giving messages to the body and causing the lining of the uterus to build up. For some, this is a stepping stone into womanhood. For others, this is a traumatizing experience, adding to their gender dysphoria and a constant reminder that their body makes uncontrollable decisions without their approval. 

Despite the average woman spending 7 years of her life menstruating, period poverty exists. In the U.S., 25 million women live in poverty, but food stamps don’t cover menstrual products. In 30 states, there’s a ‘tampon tax.’ Globally, there are 1.8 billion people who menstruate, yet over 500 million people do not have the ability to maintain their menstrual health. 

12% of women in India have access to sanitary products. This is 12 out of roughly 48% of the female population in India. Due to this, a lack of access to period products forces them, and others in the world, to resort to newspapers, toilet paper, socks, rags, clothes and plastic bags. This is more common and diverse than we think: When I first received my period, my mother sat me down and told me all of what to expect. She mentioned how I should be grateful for the resources I have. When she was a young girl, despite her being born into a middle class family–in Sierra Leone, West Africa–when pads would run out, she and her sisters would have to use rags and toilet paper because of how difficult it is to have access to pads and tampons. This was in the late 80s, early 90s. Yet, this still occurs. 

Nearly 1 in 5 American girls have either skipped school or left school early because they did not have access to period products. According to … “A box of 36 tampons, which could easily be used within one menstruation period, could cost as much as $12 —that’s significantly more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Additionally, menstrual hygiene products sold in the U.S. are still subject to sales tax in 32 states.” Zimbabwean activist and advocate against period poverty, Rutendo Nhongochema, once said: “The way we treat and value girls and women is reflected by how society responds to them in their greatest hour of need. It is greatly determined by how society plans and implements its menstrual health management programs.” 

However, women are not the only ones affected by this epidemic. Transmen, nonbinary and genderqueer people are greatly impacted by period poverty as well, if not, worse. When you add race, class and disability, the greater impact period poverty has. Those who are disabled, people of color, or undocumented immigrants are especially likely to be unemployed and living in poverty.

The cost and taxation of menstruation products affect trans individuals at an even higher rate since they experience unemployment, underemployment and poverty at an excessive rate.  

According to American Civil Liberties Union, News and Commentary, “…trans people are three times as likely to be unemployed and more than twice as likely to be living in poverty as the general population.” Though free menstrual products are not uniformly provided in women’s restrooms, they are rarely ever accessible in men’s restrooms, free or not. Also, men’s bathrooms are less likely to have a place to dispose conveniently, privately, and hygienically these products.

Although period poverty affects many communities, it impacts the homeless population significantly. According to American Civil Liberties Union, News and Commentary: “Similarly, women’s homeless shelters sometimes provide menstrual products, but men’s typically don’t. Some domestic violence shelters exclude trans and non-binary people — even though more than half have experienced intimate partner violence.” It continues, “While access to menstrual products in women’s prisons is often inadequate, it is far worse in men’s prisons. Trans and non-binary people may be incarcerated in either.”

Pads and tampons, moreso pads and liners, are not solely used for menstruation, but for those who’ve had vaginoplasty, who take estrogen and may have period symptoms, or experience endometriosis or adenomyosis (conditions that cause heavy bleeding from the uterus). Barriers are put in place to seek treatment and attain necessities, such as menstrual products. 

Menstrual health is a human rights issue, and all people who menstruate should have a right to products needed, sanitation infrastructure, and safety in order to properly and comfortably handle their periods. As the saying goes: pads and tampons are not luxuries, they’re necessities. 

What can you do to help defeat period poverty?