For the 11.6 million menstruators in the United States who live below the Federal Poverty Line, not having a pad or tampon is a recurring drain on resources, energy, and dignity.
Founder and Executive Director, Helping Women Period
These essential products are taxed in 27 states, and they are not covered by SNAP, WIC, or any other federal or state program.
When people don’t have the products they need to manage their periods, they often turn to socks, t-shirts, paper towels, or toilet paper. Or they use the products they do have for longer than is recommended. This opens them up to infections and other medical issues. Chances are, if they don’t have the ability to purchase pads and tampons, they probably don’t have medical insurance. This becomes a drag on the community resources.
The period stigma
People who experience period poverty are hit by two different stigmas — that of periods and that of poverty. Our society has a distinct dislike of discussion of messy things, and periods should be only talked about behind closed doors, if at all. I’ve been doing this work fighting period poverty for seven years, and I still find people who whisper the words “pads” or “that time of the month”. We have so many code words to describe menstruation: on the rag, that time of the month — Aunt Flo, Shark Week, et cetera — that when someone says the actual medical names, we are shocked. The reproductive health model in the United States is to separate the students by sex, and then talk about menstruation and puberty. The girls get more talk about menstruation, and the boys just get a quick gloss over.
Later, if a girl was upset, often a boy would say, “What, is it that time of the month?” as if menstruation was to blame for her feelings. In fact, 1 in 5 girls report having been teased or bullied about their periods while in school. This is what we need to stop. Education about menstruation needs to start earlier, and it needs to become as common a discussion item as a runny nose. If more boys knew more about menstruation earlier, they wouldn’t tease as much, and the shame and stigma would be lifted. I often talk to women in their 80s, who remember vividly leaking at school in seventh grade, and the shame they felt. Some could barely tell me the story above a whisper.
The poverty stigma
The second stigma felt by those experiencing period poverty is that of poverty itself. Our society does not like dirty people. We shame them. We don’t want to touch them. We tell homeless people on the corner to get a job, and then we don’t offer them a place to take a shower or wash their clothes, or give them the products they need to keep themselves clean. SNAP & WIC — those federal programs we talked about earlier — don’t cover cleaning supplies, shampoo, soap, menstrual supplies, or diapers. Many of my clients don’t go to school when they have their period because they only have one set of jeans, and if they leak in those, they have to wash them but don’t have something to change into. Giving menstruators the correct tools to manage their periods helps them become more self-sufficient. Then they can go to school or an interview or their job and become productive members of society. Want to help? Spread the word. Donate pads and tampons to local shelters and food banks, or donate money to local groups fighting period poverty. Be a champion.