The Cost of Menstruation
32 states still tax tampons and pads as ‘luxury products,’ making feminine hygiene care even more inaccessible than it already is. Due to the pandemic’s devastating unemployment rates, millions are experiencing financial loss, and many are forced to make the decision; buy a meal or a box of tampons?
People with vaginas are essentially being taxed for something that is a basic part of their bodies that they can not control. Getting a period is not a luxury, it is a normal part of reproductive health. Research shows that the average person spends $13.25 a month on menstrual products which totals to about $6,360 in one’s lifetime. This doesn’t include doctor appointments or medication for menstrual symptoms.
Periods have always been taxing. Literally, and figuratively. In 20th century America, people were taught to hide their periods. People with vaginas wore what looked like adult diapers, and were taught to cover up their time of the month from everyone around. TV and newspaper ads show women, specifically, living a happy life on their periods, hiding the menstruation: “She is the woman on her period twirling on a beach or swinging a tennis racket (you know, the kind of things every woman can’t wait to do when menstruating). She’s not defined by her period, she’s totally in control and free — with these Maxi pads with wings, she’ll learn to fly.”
Young people are taught to hide their menstruation from the day they get their first period. People literally start using tampons because pads are too visible, and god forbid someone knows you’re on your period. It’s not like it’s a part of biology or anything.
It’s time to change the conversation and become ‘period positive.’ Modern advertisements from companies like Hello Flo shed a positive light on menstruation. In a video titled Camp Gyno, a young girl at camp gets her period for the first time and labels it as “the red badge of courage.” This video advertisement is shown to kids and teenagers to show them that it’s normal and exciting to get your period for the first time, and it is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of.
Due to menstruation stigma, there tends to be insufficient education and resources about periods. Many university and college campuses have provided free menstruation products in female, male, and nonbinary restrooms; a major step for trans inclusion and reproductive justice.
For people who cannot afford these so-called “luxury items,” they are at much greater risk for poor menstrual hygiene which can be extremely deadly. Jennifer Weiss Wolf writes: “For those who are homeless or incarcerated, monthly bleeding is especially brutal. The most commonly reported substitutes when maxi pads aren’t in the budget? Newspaper, brown paper bags, old rags, and socks.” Using these every-day items for menstrual care can lead to disease and infection. New research shows poor menstrual hygiene can lead to high rates of cervical cancer along with infections like Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).
Institutions like domestic violence shelters, universities, K-12 schools, and workspaces provide reduced price and/or free menstrual products, providing those with periods with the essentials they need to be clean and healthy. However, with the pandemic shutting down these large establishments and limiting access to necessary menstrual hygiene products, millions are struggling to find and afford tampons, pads, and other essentials.
Plan International conducted a study regarding period poverty during the coronavirus and 73% of health professionals reported: “restricted access to (menstrual) products, through shortages or disrupted supply chains.” 58% reported that there has been a spike in the prices of the products necessary.
Plan International’s “Periods in a Pandemic Report” listed seven key issues related to the coronavirus and menstruation:
- Lockdowns and border closures have limited access to menstrual hygiene products.
- There is limited access to facilities for changing, washing, or cleaning during periods.
- Menstrual products have increased in price.
- Lockdowns have caused disruption to reliable and sustainable information and resources regarding menstruation.
- Access to clean water for menstrual hygiene is limited.
- Lockdowns have forced a less hygienic environment for the disposal of sanitary products.
- The stigma surrounding menstruation has become more profound.
In response to these seven key issues heavily affecting those with periods, Plan International recommends that governments must invest in better sanitation and hygiene services, along with an immediate response to hygiene management in relation to coronavirus, menstruation education needs to be crucial with remote learning, and there must be a more inclusive lens in the overall response to coronavirus and periods.
Let’s continue to push our leaders, educators, and policymakers to ensure menstrual justice is reached. Let’s advocate for education and resources surrounding menstruation, and teach children to not be afraid of their periods. Let’s continue to use inclusive language, and remember that not all women get their periods, and not everyone with a period is a woman. Let’s normalize and celebrate menstruation. Period.
Call to Action
If you are in need of menstrual products and/or resources or are interested in getting involved in menstrual justice, refer to the following organizations!
- Period Equity - Law and policy organization fighting for menstrual equity
- Period. The Menstrual Movement - National organization dedicated to providing menstrual products to those in need as well as spreading the movement among college campuses.
- The Pad Project - Global organization aiming to achieve menstrual equity through community partnerships, reproductive health education and domestic advocacy work