What is Period Poverty?
When you hear the word poverty, there’s likely a few different visuals that come to your mind about what that looks like. Maybe your mind immediately goes to the extremes of wealth inequality and you imagine groups of people living without basic needs such as food and shelter and hygiene products. Perhaps you even begin thinking about nations far away where missionaries and community service groups are sent to help provide relief. Often times, we don’t realize the magnitude of the poverty taking place in our own backyards — our schools, workplaces, neighborhoods and communities. Period poverty is no different. It’s happening right outside your door.
If you aren’t a menstruating person, it can be easy to look at strides made by movements for equality and women’s rights and wonder how there could still be a stigma around periods so strong that it leads to such a massive industry need for something that menstruating people need on a regular basis — access to menstrual hygiene products. The truth is, it’s easy to overlook if you aren’t having a period every month.
Here’s an inside look at what period poverty is and how it’s affecting the menstruators in your life.
What exactly does ‘period poverty’ mean anyway?
The American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) defines period poverty as referring to the “inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and education, including but not limited to sanitary products, washing facilities, and waste management.”
Period products are just as essential as toilet paper and soap, but if you walk into any American public restroom, they’re available for free, yet pads and tampons are either in a quarter machine or not available at all. This poses the question of why period products aren’t seen as being necessary enough to be readily available to someone in need.
Okay, so maybe they should be available, but just spending one quarter isn’t that expensive… right?
To go a step further, menstrual hygiene products aren’t a luxury; they’re a healthcare necessity. Many Americans are forced to make the choice between buying food and menstrual products.
The average menstruating American will have around 450 periods before menopause. Although that number alone is daunting, when we think in terms of hygiene products, we can use a $7 34-pack box from a leading tampon brand as an example. Already, that’s somewhere around $2,500 over the course of your menstruating years, and that’s before adding in sales tax, which could range from $.25 to $.50 added to the price of that box. Then, we have to add on the infamous tampon tax — a discriminatory tax on period products that still exists in 30 of the 50 states.
We can estimate that if even half of the more than 150 million menstruating people that live in states that still tax tampons get their period and purchase feminine hygiene products, using an average state sales tax of 5 percent, they will spend more than $275 million a year on state taxes on their period products. Don’t even get us started on the upcharge of organic products…
To add to that already overwhelming investment being asked of menstruating people, until 2020, when the IRS published that the CARES Act included new flexibility for health care spending, menstrual products were not covered by food stamps. That leaves the estimated 25 million women in the US who live below the poverty line a huge barrier to accessing menstrual hygiene products.
Wow, so the cost really adds up… what happens if you can’t afford them?
Those who get their period and don’t have access to products often are left with the only option of going back to their homes, where they’re likely to use a bulky, uncomfortable makeshift toilet paper pad or something of the likes to get through the rest of their period. Not only that, but having to leave work and go home means a growing number of missed days of needed income. This means that those who are unable to afford tampons and pads aren’t just out of the luck for the next 4-7 days, but for however long it takes them to make up lost time at school or work.
Not having proper sanitary products also puts them at risk for infection, which can lead to other health concerns that inevitably will cost even more money to treat.
Can I do anything to help make these products more accessible?
The good news is that there are tons of people fired up about the issue of period poverty and working every day to eliminate inequality in the accessibility of menstrual hygiene products. FemPAQ joined the fight in 2019 as another company helping to close the gap.
FemPAQ provides a Feminine Emergency Kit that features a compact teal and purple container that holds one tampon, one pad, one panty liner, one black panty, one feminine wipe, 1 2-tablet packet of ibuprofen, and one mini organic dark chocolate bar. It comes in small, medium, large and extra large, with the differences relating only to panty size.
You can visit the donate page to inquire about donating a number of femPAQ kits to local schools, classrooms, workplaces, correctional facilities, community centers and other areas that lack free and easy access to menstrual hygiene products.