Opinion: Free Period Products for All
By Colleen Cave
Menstruation has been surrounded by stigma and taboo for hundreds of years. In many societies, periods are thought of as dirty and shameful, and people who menstruate are forced to hide their period and suffer in silence. Because of the perceived embarrassment around menstruating, the topic isn’t discussed, and many people are ignorant about issues surrounding periods, including period poverty. Period poverty is a lack of access to menstrual hygiene products and education. Despite period products being a necessary hygienic need for half the population, many people in the U.S. experience period poverty. To combat this issue, all public buildings should be required to provide free period products because it would increase attendance in schools and work, improve women’s health, and make all women and girls across the United States feel confident and not ashamed when they get their period.
The struggles due to a lack of proper products affects the day-to-day activity of females of all ages. A health article published by the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing describes a study done by the company that makes 'Always' brand products saying, “Two-thirds of the women surveyed did not have the resources to buy menstrual hygiene products at some point during the last year, and one-fifth of respondents struggle to afford period products on a monthly basis.” It was reported that many of these women who do not have access to period products don’t feel up to leaving home and participating in life or going to work while menstruating. Missing work because of a lack of resources only exacerbates the issue of not being able to afford products. Additionally, “One in five girls miss school due to a lack of menstrual products.” Menstruating is not a choice, and the continued lack of access to products forces young girls to sacrifice their education once a month due to a normal and healthy bodily function.
Period poverty also destroys menstruators' confidence, preventing them from bleeding with dignity. Going to work, school, or the store constantly worried about bleeding through your clothes or having an issue is a nerve-wracking experience that no one with a period should have to go through. This emotional stress can cause mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and distress. The stigma surrounding periods further compounds these feelings, making those without access feel ashamed on top of anxious and worried. This is especially a problem for young girls. High school is not kind to most people. Teenagers get teased for a lack of hygiene all the time, such as oily hair, acne, and sweat. Because periods are seen as uncleanly, gross, and something to hide by many people, teenagers without menstrual products get embarrassed and sometimes skip school. Menstrual products in all public buildings would ensure that kids have access to the resources they need to be clean and confident so they can succeed in school. The government recognizing and addressing this issue publicly, would also open the floor for honest discussion about periods. Someone in power speaking up would show those with periods from all ages, that they have nothing to be ashamed of. That they can bleed and be successful, that menstruating isn’t something to whisper about, and they can go about their life on or off their cycle. The impact this legislation would make is proven by a woman in Scotland named Inga Dale who, after Scotland passed a law ensuring anyone who needed period products would have them, told Washington Post, “It just feels as if you're valued as a woman. You are free to have your period, and it's not something you should be ashamed of.”
Having access to free period products would also help prevent health issues caused by a lack of clean and safe sanitary products. When menstruators don’t have access to hygiene products, they are forced to use poor substitutes such as old clothes, toilet paper, or even leaves in some cases. Old clothes and leaves are unhygienic and can transfer bacteria to the pubic area. Additionally, fabric, toilet paper and a prolonged use of a sanitary napkin causes moisture to linger, creating an environment where bacteria or yeast can grow. The accumulation of bacteria and/or yeast can cause infections that, according to the Child Help Foundation, cause “painful urination, lower abdominal pain, back pain, and fever.” When there is nothing else available, a person might also use a tampon for longer than the recommended time or use a tampon that is not absorbent enough. This could cause Toxic Shock Syndrome. According to the CDC, Toxic Shock Syndrome is a life-threatening disease that develops after specific bacteria enters the bloodstream. Symptoms for TSS develop quickly and include, fever, headache, muscle soreness, diarrhea, vomiting, and signs of shock. In all public bathrooms there is access to sanitary products such as toilet paper and soap, which help prevent health ricks such as disease, rash, etc. Menstrual products help prevent these same issues, so they should be offered in the same capacity.
One of the main reasons for pushback against period equality is money. According to The Washington Post, Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, vetoed a bill that would provide millions of homeless people, prisoners, and teenagers with free period products because he was concerned about the funding's source, although according to lawmakers, a plan had already been finalized. Similar instances happen in the United States. In Tennessee around February of 2020, The Guardian reported on GOP lawmakers vetoing a proposal that would include period products in the state-wide annual sales tax, claiming that the state would lose too much tax revenue. Arguing about cost and losing money is missing the entire point of free hygiene products.
Politicians don’t push for items such as food and clothes to be taxed because they are a necessity, and for all menstruators, so are period products. The United States has clothing drives and food stamps to help low-income people feed and clothe themselves so they can live their life and go to work and school. Since a lack of period products prevent lower income people from doing these things, there should be aid to provide people with them. Furthermore, legislation to ensure all public buildings would provide free menstrual products would not take from the pockets of governments. Schools and stores would have to budget for these items just as they do for toilet paper, soap, paper towels, and other necessities because they are also an essential hygienic item.
While these establishments may lose a little money in the beginning, they would end up gaining more revenue and business because people would be able to shop and work feeling clean and confident.
It is also the job of schools to ensure all students have the best environment in which to learn. Money raised by schools goes towards improving the experience of all students and paying for period products would be doing just that. It is proven that this legislation works, and is not detrimental to the economy, because Scotland put a very similar policy in place that ensures all public bathrooms have free menstrual products in November of 2020 that has been successful thus far.
The job of the government is to ensure the safety of and improve the quality of life for all its citizens. Considering the physical and mental health benefits, increase in productivity, and improvement of society’s outlook on a necessary biological process, making all public buildings provide free period products would improve the lives of everyone who menstruates across the United States.