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Opinion: Eliminate period poverty: Take their feet off our necks

In a 2017 article by EachOther, a UK-focused charity

“I was paid in cash and it was a real struggle. I ended up being hospitalized with exhaustion twice after collapsing in public and lost two dress sizes while working. My daily diet consisted of just one bottle of Lucozade and one tray of $1 chips. To be rather crude and honest, it came to the point where I used makeshift tampons and towels out of loo roll. My card got declined when I was buying the cheapest tampons in the store,” said Elle Rudd, a woman who used to struggle to afford period products in a 2017 article by EachOther, a UK-focused charity.

Unfortunately, Rudd’s story is not unique.

According to Days for Girls, a nonprofit working toward ending period poverty, 500 million girls and women experience period poverty globally. Period poverty is defined as not being able to purchase menstrual care products such as pads, tampons, and menstrual cups. Period poverty must be eradicated, as it is a major hindrance to gender equality.

Inadequate access to menstrual care products prevents girls from attending school and women from attending work, which expands the already growing gender gap. According to BBC News in 2019, it is estimated that 1 in 10 girls in Africa will miss school when they have their periods.

When this happens, girls and women are potentially missing crucial opportunities that could greatly alter their future. Likewise, period poverty is a wide wall that women in the workforce are challenged with.

A 2019 Reuters survey of low-income women found that more than 1 in 5 women struggle to afford period products every month. In order for women to reach the other side of the wall, period poverty needs to be combated. On the other side of the wall is the freedom to pursue all ambitions, on the other side of the wall is menstrual equity, and on the other side of the wall is equality.

There are numerous laws in place that exacerbate period poverty, one of the most infamous being the tampon tax, the sales tax placed on menstrual care products. In 2018, InStyle Magazine estimated that with the tampon tax reaching 7% in some states, the average menstruator will spend $100 to $225 in taxes on tampons in their lifetime.

The tampon tax is a hurdle in a track and field competition. Additionally, the tampon tax treats period products like luxuries. In some states, a sugary Snickers bar is tax-free, but an essential product like a tampon or pad is not. What if this was you? What if you had no way of affording period products? The tampon tax contributes heavily to period poverty and must be removed to achieve menstrual equity. 

Those who try to undermine period poverty’s severity frequently state that period poverty only occurs in certain areas of the world. More specifically, many people believe that period poverty is only a prominent and perpetual problem in developing countries. However, Global Citizen in 2019 states, “In the US, nearly 20% of girls have missed school because they could not afford period products.” Period poverty does not discriminate.

Until period poverty is tackled, women will continue to be in the same uncomfortable position as Elle Rudd. I have known people who have experienced period poverty, and I have heard the same phrase repeatedly: “I feel disgusting.”

Period poverty is not only a problem that affects menstruators physically, but it also impacts them mentally. Everyone should be able to keep their integrity and dignity. When tampons and pads are considered human rights and not luxuries, our world will take a big step closer to achieving gender equality.

When people realize that period poverty is a universal issue, our world will take a big step closer to achieving gender equality. When period poverty is eliminated, the brethren will take their feet off our necks.