Updated: Apr 1
By Sonali Bhana
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Almost every single woman at some point in their lives has been shamed for having a period. Talking about menstruation itself is considered taboo for many people, especially men who are not “comfortable” discussing anything related to it. This stigma has contributed to the inequalities faced by menstruators which are furthered by the inaccessibility of period products. When someone lacks appropriate products, it could be due to financial reasons, not having anyone to go to for help, or being too embarrassed to seek help because of the stigma surrounding periods.
Some schools have begun to keep menstrual products, such as tampons or pads, in their nurses’ offices or, most recently, in public bathrooms. By making these products free and available to those who need them, thousands of women who experience periods monthly will benefit. The price of tampons and pads is also expensive, especially for people in low-income households when these extra expenses are inconvenient. According to a 2019 survey, the average woman will spend $6,360 on menstrual products during their lifetime, not including other products that women use to help make their period more bearable. At the time of purchase, this may not seem like a lot to people, especially men, but when you add it all up it becomes expensive. Don’t forget about all the other products that women use to make their cycles (including cramps) more comfortable. This includes Advil, chocolate, comfort food, heating pads, and more.
When you add the tax to the equation, things get a little more mind-blowing. In many states, sales tax is applied to these types of products, increasing the total price even more. This is also known as the “tampon tax,” a sales tax that is specifically added to menstrual products. The issue is that tampons, pads, liners, and other menstrual products are necessities to women and other menstruators as they are used for a natural human process that there is very little control over. Lawmakers see menstrual products as luxuries for women, hence why they continue to tax them, while products that are seen as a necessity are tax exempt. Menstrual products should be part of that group of necessities because menstruators should not have to pay more for products that help them continue their daily lives while continuously bleeding. This is specifically important to homeless women who, even if they have access to women’s shelters, will often be unable to acquire the needed products.
Another contributor to menstrual inequity is the lack of information about the harmful ingredients in menstrual products. Toxic chemicals are used in pads and tampons, such as undisclosed fragrance chemicals, dioxins and furans, and pesticide residues. Women have the right to know that the products they use to help them with their periods are linked to cancer and can cause reproductive and general health issues with fatal consequences. If you ask someone who uses menstrual products about the ingredients, they most likely will have no idea about the harmful chemicals used in these products. Women are supposed to be able to trust these companies and their promises to help them and make their periods more comfortable. It doesn’t help that these ingredients are also not advertised on the labels, meaning that the producer is not being clear with their consumers. This inequality needs to be transformed into an equality by informing customers of these toxic chemicals or creating safe and environmentally friendly alternatives that are convenient to use.
When compared to products that men use, even more signs of inequality arise. While condoms are readily available in doctors’ offices, some public bathrooms, and many times schools, much-needed pads and tampons are not. Pads and tampons are used for a bodily function that cannot be stopped without medication like birth control - not something that all menstruators want to take. Condoms, on the other hand, are not a necessity as they are for sex, a voluntary occurrence. This further proves the extent of menstrual inequality and how periods are still seen as something that women should keep quiet about as it does concern men and is considered “inconvenient” to many of them.
Periods should be normalized, especially in today’s society where these things should no longer be seen as embarrassing or shameful. Things people can do to begin advocating for this cause include ensuring that menstrual products are readily available to those who need them at work, school, and especially in public bathrooms. Don’t be afraid to start the conversation either. After all, the whole reason why there is a stigma is that no one talks about periods or feels the need to educate women and men on this topic.
Written by writer Sonali Bhana