In every country, menstruating women, trans folk, and non-binary people lack sanitary and affordable methods of managing their period. Some have no choice but to use substitutes such as newspapers, toilet rolls, or cloth rags; these methods are much less effective and may lead to infection. This glaring privation of proper resources is commonly referred to as period poverty. Although the wealth of a nation may be a predictor of the degree of which period poverty is present, it is detrimental to assume that richer countries do not experience period poverty or that poor menstrual hygiene is only an issue in poorer countries. Women from any country would struggle to pay for period products like pads or tampons if they simply do not have the means to do so, and the taboo of discussing periods discourages women to reach out for help.
In a 2019 St. Louis study at a school generally attended by students from lower–income brackets, nearly half of the girls were unable to afford pads or tampons when they needed them in the previous year, while about two-thirds used products provided by the school. In the same city, nearly two-thirds of surveyed women of a lower income were unable to afford period products. A notable number of women admitted to stealing period products out of desperation. This living resource deprivation that these women experience is especially gripping during the COVID-19 pandemic, as those who have lost sources of income as a result of the pandemic will find it even harder to budget for sanitary products. Further, if a woman that is menstruating is worried about seeming unsanitary, they will be less likely to show up and/or focus at work or school.
The sense of shame around periods still propagates throughout society as shown by a poll conducted by female hygiene company THINX of 1,500 women and 500 men across the United States. The poll results showed that 58% of women have felt embarrassed by virtue of being on their period, and 42% have experienced period shaming. Of that 42%, one in five were shamed by a male friend. Speaking up about something that is “shameful” and expected to happen sub rosa makes it all the more difficult to reach out for help in financing period products.
Thus far, there have been global advances in mitigating this issue. Scotland is the first country in the world to make free pads and tampons available to all women. They are provided in public buildings, including schools and universities. To further ensure availability, the Scottish government is also planning on a voucher system that would allow women to freely secure period products, though the logistics and details are not yet released. A less comprehensive alternative that has already been taken by some American states and several other countries is to supply menstrual products to places where people are most likely to be short––hospitals and schools. Theoretically, it helps girls who are just going through puberty while avoiding spending money on women who are capable of buying their own items. This style has won bipartisan support in America, therefore it is unlikely that it will change anytime soon. Britain, along with a number of other countries and American states, has abolished the value-added tax (dubbed the “tampon tax”) on January 1st, 2021 that was levied on sanitary goods.
The fight for all women feeling secure to having hygienic periods secure in their ability to have hygienic periods begins with addressing underlying societal and public health biases and issues. Menstrual education and gender equality are important points to address. Periods should not be a source of shame because they are “disgusting”, nor should women be shamed for simply being on their period. Slowly but surely through executive actions taken by lawmakers, a great message is made clear: periods should not hinder anyone from living their life.