Ending Period Poverty

In January the State of California started a two-year state sales tax ban on menstrual hygiene products— including tampons, sanitary napkins, menstrual sponges, and menstrual cups. California State Assemblymember Christina Garcia says that the law is about “having a tax code that’s gender-neutral (and) that represents our values.” Garcia estimates that these products cost consumers more than $3,200 before taxes over a lifetime. California joins twelve other states that also exempt essential hygiene products from sales tax, seven that are considering similar measures, and five others with no sales tax of any kind. These laws are the result of sustained activism to label these products essential items, similar to other tax-exempt items like toilet paper, Viagra, and Rogaine (yep, those last two are considered essential items).

Thankfully, social media and independent filmmakers are helping to normalize menstruation in the media. From the London marathoner Kirin Gandhi, who freely bled during her race, to the Academy Award-winning documentary short Period. End of Sentence, the media is taking on period shaming. But will there come a day when menstrual products will be available in all public restrooms, just like toilet paper and paper towels? 

We don’t have to look further than Scotland to see what the future might hold. In 2017, Scotland began to address what it calls Period Poverty by making free menstrual products available at food banks and schools. And last month, the Scottish parliament preliminarily approved a bill to make menstrual products available for free to everyone who needs them. Scottish lawmaker Alison Johnstone asked: “Why is it in 2020 that toilet paper is seen as a necessity but period products aren’t? Being financially penalized for a natural bodily function is not equitable or just.”

A survey of low-income residents in St. Louis who menstruate found that nearly two-thirds of those surveyed were unable to afford period products during the previous year and one fifth could not afford them on a monthly basis. Nearly half of the respondents reported that they could not afford to buy both food and period products during the year of the study. Women who cannot afford period products improvise with cloth, rags, tissues, or toilet paper; some even use children’s diapers or paper towels taken from public bathrooms. 

In the United States, the activist group United for Access has petitioned the U.S. Department of education to provide period products in all school bathrooms. The petition is more than 50% to its goal, with 113,000 signatures. A 2017 poll by the sanitary napkin brand Always revealed that 1 in 5 U.S. students who menstruate either left school early or stayed home entirely because they didn’t have access to period products. Students at Purdue University in Indiana successfully campaigned for the college to provide free period products in academic and administration buildings (not yet available in dorms or athletic facilities).

Help dismantle the taboo of menstruation and add your voice to the growing movement for more accessible and affordable period products.

Take Action! Add your name to the petition to ensure that all students are provided free and easy access to period products — because no one should have to miss out on an education because of their period.