Menstruation is challenging enough for women. Between cramps, heavy bleeding, and a general feeling of fatigue, that “time of month” can be a real hassle. But for some, a monthly period is more than a minor annoyance; it’s a time of humiliation and distress.
For the majority of Americans, managing menstruation is nothing more than an occasional inconvenience. However, for the 17 million women living in poverty in the United States, the arrival of her monthly cycle may mean choosing between having good hygiene or purchasing food.
While more attention has been given to the topic of “period poverty” in recent years, much of the focus has been on impoverished countries. However, here in the United States, the issue of menstruation for poor women has gone largely undiscussed.
Experts say that the average woman spends $70 a year on feminine hygiene products, not including pain relievers, heating pads, or replacement costs due to clothing mishaps. As the age of the onset of puberty continues to decline, girls need feminine products, such as tampons or pads, at an earlier age.
A recent Huffington Post article highlighted the issue of teens in the U.S. unable to afford tampons or sanitary napkins. On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, it is not uncommon for girls to miss school for up to a week during their menstrual cycle. According to Dominique Amiotte, a 17-year-old on the Reservation, nearly half of her girlfriends are unable to afford the menstrual cycle essentials.
An interview with the school nurse at the Crazy Horse School revealed that one girl was contemplating pregnancy to avoid having to worry about access to tampons. While some females walk around with blood-stained pants, other girls create makeshift pads from toilet paper.
“They shouldn’t feel like they’re being punished for being a girl,” said Julia Chipps, the school nurse.
The issue of period poverty goes deeper than not having access to sanitary napkins. According to one study, poor people often pay more for basic necessity products because they are unable to afford to buy in higher quantities or bulk.
In addition, feminine hygiene products are taxed in many states, as they are not considered a medical necessity in most instances. There are currently fourteen states that do not impose a sales tax on tampons. Five states do not have sales tax at all, and nine others specifically exempt feminine hygiene products. Our neighbors to the north, Canada, recently lifted the tax on feminine hygiene products.
Some organizations are working to alleviate the pain that many low-income women experience due to menstruation. For example, Aunt Flow is a company committed to making sure that all people have access to menstrual products. For every box of tampons purchased through Aunt Flow, a box is donated to an organization in the U.S. that supports women in need.
While much work needs to be done to support those who can’t afford feminine hygiene products, bringing attention to the taboo subject of female menstruation is a great place to start. PERIOD.