Getting your first period isn’t a moment that you’re likely to forget. It’s a shared experience, and yet, so many of us end up feeling embarrassed and ashamed about it—especially at that time in our lives. We speak in a kind of code (“Aunt Flo”) around other people to cover it up; we put off telling our parents about our first period; we hide our pads or tampons up our sleeves or in the palm of our hands so that no one knows we’re on our period; and we definitely don’t talk about periods or any of the symptoms around them. All of this cloak and dagger behavior ends up perpetuating the cultural stigma around periods.
Menstrual Hygiene Day (MHD), which we celebrated on May 28, is trying to change that. A global advocacy platform, MHD aims to de-stigmatize periods and promote access to products so that all girls and women can manage their periods safely, hygienically, and without shame.
It’s easy to take period products for granted, but the lack of access to tampons, pads, or private, clean bathrooms is a real and pervasive global problem.
Here in the U.S.,women experience period poverty in many ways:
- 1 in 5 teens have struggled to afford period products
- 84% of teens have either missed or know someone who has missed school due to period poverty
- In a study of low-income women from a major U.S. metropolitan area, as many as two-thirds said they couldn’t afford sanitary supplies and 46% had to choose between food and period products
- Outdated legislation allows 30 states to tax period products as luxury items when in fact they are a basic necessity. These added taxes—in addition to the general cost of period products—are a huge barrier for women among vulnerable populations
COVID-19 and Menstrual Health
The lack of access to menstrual hygiene is a critical public health issue, and like so many other aspects of women’s reproductive health, we’re seeing how this is being exacerbated by the current pandemic. One impact has been on subsidized products. California and New York City provide free period products in schools, but that has been suspended while schools remain closed. Disruptions to the supply chain are also driving up costs, pricing out many girls and women (source: Menstrual Hygiene Day).
Menstrual hygiene is a basic necessity and right for all girls and women. That won’t change, regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are countless grassroots efforts working toward policy changes that promote menstrual equity, from banning the tampon tax to offering free period products in the workplace and at schools. You can help by signing the petitions at freetheperiod.com and by texting PERIOD to 44321 to join the #MenstrualMovement.