Period Poverty: Why Menstrual Products Should Be Free

Jessica Rios

Did you know that women in the U.S. spend nearly $2,000 on tampons throughout their lifetime? And that’s disregarding other feminine products such as heating pads, underwear, and birth control. Those add to an additional $16,000 in their lifetimes. While it is not a dire amount to the average middle class to upper class individual, it is an issue toward many women who struggle financially.  This is the foundation of the period poverty epidemic that affects millions of women. Period poverty is a term used to emphasize the social and economic barrier to menstrual products and sanitation. Effects could include low self-esteem and hygiene, which could also affect women’s mental health. Since the menstrual cycle, often referred to as women’s “periods” is a natural, biological occurrence in which there is blood flow involved, it’s only fair that the products used to aid it should be affordable (by making them tax-deductible) if not free to purchase similarly to band-aids. Hence, menstrual products should be tax-deductible or free, as it’s a natural necessity to women and should have access to them and so they don’t experience the harmful effects of period poverty.

Not only is period poverty a generally financial issue, but it is a moral one as well. The fact that women in developing countries have to resort to other methods such as insanitary items to manage their periods since they can’t afford it is not in the best interest of humanity. According to Linda Carrol who writes for Reuters Health, “A survey conducted by researchers at St. Louis University found that women who lack the funds to buy feminine hygiene products use cloth, rags, toilet paper, and sometimes even diapers or paper towels taken from public bathrooms”. The general consensus is that public bathrooms and toilet paper from those bathrooms aren’t the most sanitary and could cause urogenital infection for women, thus putting their health at risk. If they had free tampons or pads in restrooms, there wouldn’t be any of those life-threatening burdens.

Moreover, period poverty is also a common cause for poorer mental health and well-being in women. Considering the emotional and physical effects of having one’s menstrual cycle such as mood swings and cramps, the realization that one also can’t buy pads only makes it more uncomfortable for the person. For example, a study showed in regards to women who attended college, “68.1% of participants who experienced period poverty had symptoms of moderate-to-severe depression.” This is an alarming statistic because it suggests that by allowing menstrual products to be free, it can lower this statistic and ease the burden of depression that could root in low self-esteem and discomfort of lack of self-care. 

Dr. Penninah Lutung stated that “Access to sanitary pads should be considered a necessity, not a luxury—since the lack of access means unmet menstrual health and hygiene needs, which may lead to stigma, harassment, and social exclusion, particularly for adolescent girls and young women.” In order for women to lead self-sufficient, healthy lives there must be an access to menstrual needs. Otherwise, they are left relying on scraps and put in stressful situations, and this could be detrimental to their health and emotional well-being. It’s important to grasp this consequence, because often people focus on the financial factor; if menstrual products are free, it would cost the federal government millions of funds, including taxpayer money. According to ICTSD, “The Parliamentary Budget Office estimates that providing free period products to every student in school would cost about $25 million a year. Those funds should be guaranteed by the federal government”. This is an issue to many because citizens of the U.S. complain about taxes enough, but there needs to be an awareness of what the topic in discussion is: a solution to period poverty. If one can understand how harmful it is to strengthen the financial barrier between women and menstrual necessities, it should be worth the cost. Scotland is the first country in the world to make menstrual products free: “The Period Products Bill puts a legal duty on local authorities to ensure anyone who needs period products can obtain them for free.” It has been considered a landmark victory for women and people galore living in Scotland, and it’s a wholesome event to read about. The joy experienced as a result of this bill is also the relief over not having to financially struggle for the opportunity to not feel discomfort when on one’s period.

The inequity between menstrual products and normal health supplies is astonishing and shouldn’t be an issue for women longer. It’s important that women all have access to affordable menstrual products for their natural needs, as it’s relevant to their health and development.