Around the world, an estimated 100 million young girls lack access to menstrual products, including a significant number in the US. Despite the fact that 49% of the world 's population is female, for many cultures periods are still taboo.
As a young woman, I’ve experienced people’s uncomfortable responses to periods for a good portion of my life. I’ve also suffered from the stigma that surrounds them. From male classmates asking me if I’m in a bad mood because of my period to my fear of asking my teacher to go to the bathroom to change my pad, periods have been an inescapable and sometimes embarrassing fact of my life. My most striking memory, is the time two boys in my gym class played catch with my unopened pad, while the rest of my class watched in horror; not at what the boys were doing but what was in their hands. I wonder if these views are because of the lack of education that both boys and girls get on menstrual cycles or the attitudes that men are taught from childhood to have towards periods. To think of women who have them as gross, or weird or angry for no other reason than a hormonal imbalance. Today, I am angry not because I am on my period but because the stigma around periods has real consequences for real women. It’s time that we pay attention to this issue.
Access to a tampon or other hygiene product means the difference between being able to go to school or go to work for women and girls. Partially due to the stigma put on periods by society, simply asking for a tampon is not an option for these women and girls who don't have them readily available to them at home. According to a recent study cited by CNN, in the United States, one-in-four teen girls are unable to attend classes due to a lack of access to menstrual products while one-in-five struggled to afford to purchase products or are unable to at all.
The reason why they cannot access these products is simply that they are too expensive. In thirty-five states tampons are seen as “luxury items,” meaning they are not basic necessities and are therefore taxed the same amount of sales tax as a normal item. Some examples of things that are exempt from sales taxes are toilet paper, prescription drugs, and groceries. If states exempt items that people cannot live without on a daily basis, then why aren’t tampons included? Women cannot control their periods, prevent them from happening or do anything that would make it so that they do not need a supply of tampons every single month. Not taxing products like Viagra, which is exclusively used by men, but taxing tampons is clearly a sexist action on behalf of the states and needs to be ended immediately.
Over the course of their reproductive lifetimes, women will spend an estimated extra 1,700 dollars on tampon products alone, according to research done by Huffington Post. This number is only a baseline, as the price can go higher depending on the brand, and the local prices in the area where the woman lives. When women in the United States make 82 cents to every dollar that a man makes, sometimes less, this is not a price that some women can afford to pay. Taxing tampons prevents women from accessing the products they truly cannot live without.
None of these issues are being talked about at the highest levels of government, and one of the main reasons for that is the stigma that surrounds periods. The attitudes about periods being gross or unnatural prevent anyone from talking about it and are now causing more issues for women. This is an even bigger problem when it comes to the fact that getting rid of taxes is only the first step.
To allow all women the products they deserve, menstrual hygiene products need to be free for every woman in the united states. As Scotland becomes poised to be the first country in the world to offer free menstrual products to every one of its female citizens, it’s time to take a serious look at implementing that here in the United States. While women in prison have access to menstrual products and have since 2018 they are limited to only a certain amount. Women in public colleges and schools in the U.S do not have access to free products, which they would if they lived in Scotland or England. Why is it that countries in Europe are able to provide free tampons when the United States can’t even remove the tax on these essential items?
In order to remove the tampon tax and transition to free tampons for all the first thing we need is to educate everyone about a women’s menstrual cycle. So many people are grossly uneducated, and fail to understand basic facts about how the cycle works that it’s impossible to have a conversation about it. Once we’ve educated the male population we can open up a discussion about a women’s right to have access to the products she can’t live without. Maybe this conversation can lead to the passage of bills like the Menstrual Equity for All Act introduced in March of 2019 but currently is stalled in the US House of Representatives. This bill would allow states to use federal grants to provide free products in schools and require government health insurance through Medicaid to cover period products, a change that could mean a lot to a lot of women.
Through conversations and legislation, we can begin to pull away the curtain of stigma surrounding a women’s period. It is time for the voices of women to be heard instead of shut down by the sexist standards that society has placed on us. Giving women access to the products they need can open up numerous opposites in terms of employment and education, while also paving the way towards equality.
Okamoto, Nadya. “Opinion: The Cost of Tampons Is Hurting Low-Income Girls. Let's Fix That.” CNN. Cable News Network, October 21, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/21/perspectives/period-poverty-menstrual-products/index.html.
Kane, Jessica. “This Is The Price Of Your Period.” HuffPost. HuffPost, December 7, 2017. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/period-cost-lifetime_n_7258780.
Zraick, Karen. “22 States Considered Eliminating the 'Tampon Tax' This Year. Here's What Happened.” The New York Times. The New York Times, July 12, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/12/us/tampon-tax.html.
Wamsley, Laurel. “Scotland Poised To Become 1st Country To Make Period Products Free.” NPR. NPR, February 27, 2020. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/02/27/809990550/scotland-poised-to-become-1st-country-to-make-period-products-free.
UNICEF. “FAST FACTS: Nine Things You Didn't Know about Menstruation.” UNICEF, May 25, 2018. https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/fast-facts-nine-things-you-didnt-know-about-menstruation.
Mercado, Mia. “7 Stats On Period Problems Around The World.” Bustle, Bustle, 14 June 2017, www.bustle.com/p/7-statistics-that-show-the-startling-reality-of-period-problems-around-the-world-64399.