There are an estimated 500 million people who are affected worldwide by period poverty, with roughly 16.9 million of these individuals living in the United States. Period poverty can look different for those affected by it and may include: lack of access to menstrual products; the inability of individuals to care for themselves during menstruation; lack of access to hygiene services during menstruation; lack of a supportive environment to make informed decisions about menstruation; or a combination of all.
Demographically speaking, students, houseless persons, lower-income individuals, transgender and non-binary individuals, and those who are incarcerated struggle most with a lack of access to menstrual products. These individuals experience both limited and inconsistent access to basic items such as menstrual pads and tampons. Especially for those who are houseless or incarcerated, staff can potentially withhold menstrual products or there may not be a safe location to wash themselves.
The price of menstrual products is a consistent barrier to accessible period care as well. Sales tax is only one barrier to affordable products, but also, people cannot purchase pads or tampons with food stamps, Medicaid, or health insurance spending accounts. The problem stems from the notion that menstrual products may not be deemed necessary by the institutions that should be helping individuals get the menstrual care that they both need and deserve.
The implications of period poverty are severe and can cause negative mental health effects, as well as create additional barriers, keeping individuals who menstruate from being able to attend school or work. Additionally, many affected by period poverty are often unable to access health care and do not have the chance to receive proper diagnoses relating to their menstrual cycle.
Until 2019, there was a lack of research on period poverty and the ways in which it affects millions of people in the United States. This can be largely attributed to the shame and stigmatization of menstruation. Although it is a natural bodily function in which billions of people around the world experience, it is treated as an embarrassing, taboo, or rude topic to discuss with others.
While period poverty is a nationwide issue, the Granite State is not exempt. 267,374 individuals who menstruate and identify as female live in New Hampshire. Of those people, 27,625 live below the Federal Poverty Line. In response to concerns that school-aged individuals did not have access to menstrual products, a bill was passed in 2019 that requires New Hampshire schools to provide them to middle and high school students, free of charge. Tampons and pads are now provided in female and gender-neutral bathrooms and paid for by the school districts, allowing students to take the supplies that they need without fearing shame or embarrassment.
In 2021, there were two bills that attempted to roll-back menstrual equity rights and repeal the current requirement that schools provide menstrual products. To be clear - without New Hampshire’s law, schools would have no incentive to actually provide menstrual products, potentially leading to “deserts” at certain schools. Thankfully, the legislation failed and school districts are still required to provide free menstrual products today. Districts provide toilet paper, paper towels, meals, and other necessary provisions for students. The exclusion of pads and tampons only serves to create further barriers for students who need these essential products because of the stigma and shame that surrounds menstruation.
This is the public health crisis that few are talking about. Period rights are human rights. If you wish to become an advocate, you can follow the link below, which will take you to the homepage of the organization, https://period-action.org/advocacyPERIOD., an advocacy group fighting for menstrual equity.