Shame associated with bodily functions is over; periods are a sign of health.
But it’s tough for many girls and women to embrace their natural menstrual cycle when they’re without access to the products they need during that time. It’s called period poverty—and it’s real.
Inadequate access to menstrual products and information about periods is a global problem. In the United States, it’s being addressed in a patchwork of state plans and non-profit activity.
This is a start, but it’s not enough to lift girls and women out of period poverty.
More needs to be done.
The latest news in period equity comes from California, where the Menstrual Equity for All Act expands existing legislation requiring free access to menstrual products in 50 percent of bathrooms by the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year. The state also is mandating that public community colleges and universities follow suit, and is encouraging the Regents of the University of California and private educational institutions to do the same. The impact is huge given the state’s population and the how many women live there.
Other states, including New York, have enacted similar requirements in schools, and also have abolished the “pink tax” or “tampon tax.” It’s a tax on a medical necessity. Legislative progress to eliminate it is, unfortunately, not nationwide. That’s an additional financial burden thanks to the gender pay gap, making free period products even more necessary.
We have the power to eliminate stigma around a woman’s natural cycle when menstrual supplies are free, accessible and visible. Seeing menstrual products in school bathrooms promotes acceptance. It signals an acknowledgement of normal physiology and support of a developmental reality. We’ll be closer to accepting that when menstrual products are as available as toilet paper and soap in public bathrooms.
That visibility is a potential conversation-starter between women and their gynecologists about their periods, rather than waiting for “the usual questions” to be asked. It could be a line into patient advocacy, accurate medical information and, eventually, well-informed patients who don’t hesitate to get the care they need.
When we break down barriers to access, girls can attend school without interruption. Think about what the calendar looks like for a girl with a 21-day menstrual cycle who can’t attend school because she’s bleeding. It’s a particular problem for girls of color who live in underserved communities. Schools that provide period supplies are literally affording these girls the chance to reshape their lives.
The news from California is good–but legislative action only scratches the surface. Lots of grassroots organizations have begun to support menstrual equity, and even collaborate with period supplies manufacturers to conduct surveys and provide data on menstrual poverty. Manufacturers need to take a stand for their consumers and provide products free of charge in more public bathrooms. And, of course, doctors’ offices and hospitals must be fully, consistently stocked with pads and tampons for their patients and staff so they can go about their lives and work without skipping a beat.
Periods are a given in a woman’s life. Considering we women spend more than six years menstruating and about $17,000 on menstrual supplies throughout our lives, destigmatizing periods and ditching barriers to these products is the least we can do. More than a gesture, providing free menstrual products in public spaces and removing taxes on them is a commitment to provide—unapologetically—what girls need as they become women.