It's time to talk. Period.
According to Free the Tampons, 86% of US women ages 18-54 have started their period unexpectedly in public without the supplies they needed, often resulting in women improvising with other materials until they can go home or to the store.
However, for the over 40 million women who live in poverty, getting access to proper menstrual hygiene care is even more of a challenge. Pads and tampons are treated as "luxuries" and taxed as such, while other necessities like groceries aren't. Furthermore, most assistance programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), don't cover pads and tampons, resulting in many women reusing hygiene products for too long, or even going without them.
"Menstrual products should not be treated as luxury items."– Representative Grace Meng (D-NY)
Tampons and pads are one of the most requested items at homeless shelters and food pantries, but they are rarely donated, so organizations almost never have enough to distribute to those in need.
However, there are some good signs that progress is being made. In September 2017, the Illinois legislature passed a law that will require Illinois school districts and charter schools (grades 6-12) to provide feminine hygiene products in bathrooms to female students, for free, which went into effect January 1, 2018. This is wonderful news, and we hope that policy makers continue to push for laws like these. You can find the full text of the Public Act here.
Another recent victory for menstrual health care in the United States was the passage of a bill that called for the provision of a variety of feminine hygiene products to female inmates at no cost. While this and other policies on a state-level are a great step in the right direction, there is a long way to go until women and girls have access to basic hygiene needs.
global health Issue
Menstrual health is an especially urgent concern in low-income countries, where women and girls often lack access to hygiene products and use unsanitary materials as a substitute.
According to a 2013 study by Sumpter and Torondel, up to 88% of girls in India wash cotton menstrual pads without soap or with unclean water.
The health consequences of poor menstrual hygiene are disastrous, including reproductive diseases, increased maternal mortality, reproductive tract infections, toxic shock syndrome.
However, not only do women face the health consequences of inadequate menstrual hygiene care, but they also face the social consequences of the menstruation taboo, often resulting in social ostracization and subsequently poor self-image.
This is especially impactful for school-age girls, where cultural factors as well as access to menstrual hygiene result in many girls missing school.
In Kenya, girls miss an average of 4.9 days of school each month because they are menstruating.
With education being a key factor in social mobility and economic empowerment, it is impossible to ignore the issue of proper menstrual hygiene care on a global scale.
Want even more information? Check out the links below:
New York Times: "In Jail, Pads and Tampons Used as Bargaining Chips." April 2017.
Tax Foundation: "Tampon Taxes: Do Feminine Hygiene Products Deserve a Sales Tax Exemption?" April 2017.
Harvard Political Review: "Menstrual Hygiene: The Dark Horse of Development." September 2016.