The Politics of Periods
It’s the 21st century – women are more empowered, more self-sufficient, and more important than ever before. This year, women in the United States are running for Congress at an unprecedented rate. So why does menstrual hygiene, an essential component of menstrual health, still pose such a challenge to women's advancement?
Menstrual Hygiene Products are Viewed as a Non-Necessity
Most women agree that there’s nothing remotely luxurious about having to contain the crimson wave. But the U.S. government seems to think otherwise when choosing to tax tampons as luxury items, like an expensive handbag, rather than as necessities, like groceries and medical purchases. Though a few states have challenged this notion and abolished this tax, it is imperative that more states get involved. It all boils down to women not having to bear the financial burden for Mother Nature’s inevitable monthly gift.
Until recently, female inmates in federal penitentiaries had to cope with their monthly cycles using an allotment of only 12 pads per month (and no tampons). These pads were not only insufficient for many inmates, but were also frequently denied to them by prison guards as a form of punishment. Factor in an incredibly low-paying job (think less than $1/hr) and we can really get a sense of the powerlessness these inmates experience when trying to improve their menstrual hygiene conditions.
Thankfully, this is starting to change. Within the last year, the Federal Bureau of Prisons announced that, “women in its facilities would be guaranteed free menstrual pads and tampons.” While this is a great starting point, the scope of this decision is limited to federal prisons, so state prisons and local jails still need to join the movement.
Questionable Product Content / Menstrual Product Regulation
Considering that half of the population uses menstrual products, and with frequency, there is staggeringly little knowledge and disclosure of the quality of the materials used in menstrual products (especially tampons). Purchasing a product based only on how much blood it is said to hold is not enough. We think women deserve to know what makes up the products they put in or on their bodies.
After a 2015 regulation took up the cause of women who have died or been impacted by tampon oversight, these products are finally being tested to ensure that American women won’t face life-threatening issues due to their menstrual products.
So What Can You Do to Help?
We say: support those who support menstrual hygiene. Take I Support the Girls, for example. This non-profit organization, "collects and distributes new and gently used bras, and sealed menstrual hygiene products, to women and girls nationally and internationally." We, too, believe that a woman should never have to choose between feeding herself and her personal health.
Another organization, #HappyPeriod, is devoted to helping the low income or homeless by collecting and distributing menstrual products and unused underwear. Their mission is to help women feel freedom, not shame, and to break the taboo surrounding menstruation.
And finally, here's a shout out to Distributing Dignity, an organization that has come up with unique ways for women to support the cause of menstrual dignity. Like other organizations they accept donations, but they also encourage Mardi Bra parties that you can host to collect donations. So get your friends behind the cause and have a little fun while doing it!
H.R. 1708, 114th Cong. (2015) (enacted).
Brand, David. "5 US Laws That Reinforce Period Taboos." Global Citizen(blog), March 16, 2018. Accessed May 24, 2018. https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/period-stigma-5-laws-us-taboos/.
Brand, David. "12 Pads Per Month? Arizona Legislature Will Vote on Restrictive Menstruation Rules." Global Citizen(blog), February 7, 2018. Accessed May 24, 2018. https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/arizona-inmates-periods-prison-women-wash/.
Chandler, Michael Alison. "The Once-whispered Topic of Women’s Menstruation Now Has Political Cachet." Washington Post(blog), August 7, 2017. Accessed May 24, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/social-issues/the-once-whispered-topic-of-womens-menstruation-now-has-political-cachet/2017/08/07/cdeae46e-68a2-11e7-8eb5-cbccc2e7bfbf_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d8de961af9be.
Jones, Abigail. "Periods, Policy, and Politics: Menstrual Equity Is the New Thing." Newsweek(blog), May 8, 2017. Accessed May 24, 2018. http://www.newsweek.com/periods-policy-and-politics-menstrual-equity-new-thing-596027.
Weiss-Wolf, Jennifer. "America's Very Real Menstrual Crisis." Time(blog), August 11, 2015. Accessed May 24, 2018. http://time.com/3989966/america-menstrual-crisis/.