Saturday is the second-ever National Period Day. Youth-run nonprofit organization PERIOD started the awareness campaign last year to bring period poverty, a rarely-talked about the topic, into the public forum.
Products like pads and tampons are essential for people who get their periods, but not everyone can access or afford them. While you can buy things like lip balm or get a tattoo without paying extra in some states, 30 states make you pay a “tampon tax” on pads and tampons, according to the legal organization Period Equity.
That means states collectively make an estimated $126 million every year off people’s periods. Americans spend more than $2 billion on menstrual products annually. Period Equity and the period product and sexual wellness company LOLA are working to get states to discard this discriminatory tax. States such as Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington, and California have complied.
But this doesn’t mean eliminating period poverty isn’t still an upward battle. Here’s what you need to know about this widespread problem.
1. COVID-19 has made it worse
Access to menstrual products has taken a hit since the pandemic began. As some schools and public facilities remain closed, people can’t easily get free tampons and pads there like they once did, Teen Vogue reports. Many people also have less money to spend on their periods, given high unemployment rates in dozens of countries due to the pandemic.
Supply is also a problem.
“Since March, we have distributed over 2.8 million [menstrual] products. The problem we are facing today is supply-chain shortages — supply of products can’t keep up with demand due to slowdowns in manufacturing,” Kate Barker Swindell, PERIOD’s operation manager, told Teen Vogue.
2. A lack of donations
Clearly, people desperately need affordable and accessible menstrual products. Yet they’re some of the least donated supplies to food pantries and shelters, Samantha Bell, director of the national organization Alliance for Period Supplies, told the Kaiser Family Foundation.
During the pandemic, menstrual equity organizations have filled some of this gap. Teen Vogue reports PERIOD shipped 25,000-period products per day at the peak of COVID-19.
3. Unhygienic alternatives
When people can’t afford menstrual items, they sometimes resort to unhygienic ways to stop their bleeding like using socks or toilet paper. This can make them vulnerable to urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis.
4. It goes beyond periods
Globally, periods cause students to miss school because they can’t access menstrual products, don’t have toilets at school, or there is a stigma around having your period. Across Africa, 1 in 10 girls misses school because they don’t have access to menstrual products, according to the international human rights organization .
This can have a cumulative effect; missed school days can cause girls to drop out of school completely, says ActionAid. This increases their risk of child marriage and earlier pregnancy.
Period poverty can also negatively impact a person’s mental health. One in 10 women reported that they believed period poverty hampered their socialization skills, according to a 2019 survey of 1,500 women by the menstrual product company Always.
Period poverty affects so many people around the world, but awareness of the public health crisis is just in its nascent stages. Help spread the word.