Period Poverty, Stigma, and Female Hygiene Gaps in the U.S. and Around the World
Period poverty and stigma affect millions of women in the United States and around the world. In the U.S., 30 states have a tax on period solutions because they are considered “nonessential” goods. Women living in poverty may have to choose between buying food for their children and buying period products, while girls may miss school while on their periods.
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The Taboo Truth About Period Poverty and Stigma
Women don’t have a choice in having a period; there is no reason why they should pay a tax on a natural biological process.
The Prevalence of Period Poverty
The average woman spends nearly seven years of her life menstruating. Despite this, period poverty exists. In the U.S., 25 million women live in poverty, but food stamps don’t cover menstrual products. This is a global issue: For example, just 12% of women in India have access to sanitary products. Because of this deficiency, women may be forced to use other items like newspapers, toilet paper, socks, and even plastic bags. Additionally, 1.25 billion females worldwide don’t have access to a safe and private toilet, and 526 females worldwide don’t have access to a toilet at all.
The Effects of Period Stigma
In some countries, menstruating females are considered dirty, untouchable, and disgraceful. But the effects of period stigma aren’t just social. Studies indicate girls worldwide miss school due to menstruation, and other research has shown a link between menstruation and lost wages in the workforce. The economics behind period stigma are also devastating. The cost of menstrual products may cause some to believe that daughters are economically burdensome. What’s worse, studies in Kenya have shown that school-age girls engage in transactional sex to pay for menstrual products, which increases their risk of experiencing violence, sexually transmitted infections, and other dangers.
Progress Toward Safe and Affordable Periods
Though some countries have tried to support menstruating girls and women, there is still much work to be done – especially in the U.S.
How to Address Period Poverty
There are a few major steps to be taken to address period poverty. Firstly, it’s important to identify the root causes of why women are unable to properly manage their periods. Secondly, it’s crucial to dismantle menstrual taboos in the community. Finally, it’s vital to create sustainable solutions through education and increased access to affordable products.
Recent Efforts and Campaigns
Some progress has been made toward addressing period poverty, both domestically and abroad. Canada, India, Kenya, and Ireland have removed sales and value-added taxes from menstrual products, and the UK government has announced it will work to ensure sanitary products are freely available across all English schools. In the U.S., New York and other states have introduced bills requiring schools, correctional facilities, and homeless shelters to provide menstrual hygiene products. Unfortunately, the mandate is unfunded, placing the financial burden on schools and facilities.
Nonprofits and Femtech Startups Getting Involved
Organizations such as PERIOD and Period Equity have developed initiatives to provide period products to women and are challenging laws that place an unnecessary burden on menstruating girls and women.
Organizations Speaking Up
One organization pushing to make a difference is PERIOD. Founded in 2014 by two 16-year-old high school students, PERIOD has addressed over 1 million periods through product distribution. It also participated in the first-ever National Period Day on 10/19/19. Additionally, it has more than 700 registered chapters in all 50 states and more than 40 countries, which distribute menstrual products, run educational workshops, and fight for systemic change toward menstrual equality.
Another organization, Myna Mahila Foundation, serves women in India by employing women to manufacture and sell affordable sanitary and maternity pads to their communities. They also teach women skills to open their own Myna foundation, and they provide day care to help women seek employment.
A key initiative in the fight for period equity is Tax Free. Period. Launched in 2019 by Period Equity and LOLA, this initiative was launched to help end the tampon tax through efforts ranging from protests to reaching out to state lawmakers. Their work has thus far resulted in five states removing the tampon tax.
How Femtech is Creating Solutions
In 2019, femtech startups received $800 million in funding. What’s more, funding for femtech companies increased by 812% from 2014 to 2018. Femtech is expected to become a $25 billion industry within the next five years.
There are several femtech companies currently making a noticeable impact on period poverty and equity. Dear Kate produces leak-resistant and stain-fighting underwear and activewear with absorbency equating to two tampons, and the donate a pair of Dear Kates for every purchase over $100. LOLA produces toxin-free feminine products that use 100% certified organic cotton and have donated over 5 million period products. FLEX’s reusable FLEX Cup has helped women save $150 to $300 annually.
Fighting the Good, Necessary Fight
Thanks to the efforts of women’s advocates, nonprofits, and pro bono attorneys, government officials are beginning to address period poverty. The success enjoyed thus far should encourage women to continue fighting for period equity.