Saturday, October 23rd, was National Period Day and I could not be happier to celebrate and advocate for Period equity! Let me tell you, why …
“I remember the first time that I really consciously thought about what it might be like to be homeless and without the ability to take care of all my personal hygiene, as a menstruating person!
It was the year 2000 and I was a college student in New York City. I was sitting in a subway car when a homeless woman entered the car, from another, begging for money to buy food! A pretty common scene for those who have ridden on the subway. By this time, I knew the ‘regulars’ who would come on to the car with almost rehearsed and choreographed lines to solicit for help. I immediately recognized her as one of these regulars who had always stuck out to me! She was a black woman who sounded highly educated but down on her luck! However, on this particular day, something different struck me (and others, I’m sure) about her! I had been seeing her ‘begging’ on this route for about a year now but on this day, I could see that the toll had been taken…
On previous occasions, she was cleanly dressed and appeared well-nourished. However, on this day, she had clearly lost a lot of weight and she was really dirty. Her previously jolly and round face was now slender. Her eyes were now sunken in and her temples were wasting! She also appeared to be dirty. I mean, her hair was a mess, like a nest, her skin was dirty and worst yet, her sweat pants which were now way oversized, were not just dirty, they were covered in menstruated blood. She was on her period!
She was begging for money for food but we, the women and men in the train car, had a visible concern and sadness. Some of us gave her money. One woman gave her a business card and asked her to come to her shelter. One man took out a sweater from a shopping bag and gave it to her to cover up her bottoms. She took it but didn’t put it on. To me, she seemed unphased and in a daze. She was probably even high or, maybe, she wanted that to be her impact on us!
When she left the subway car, no one talked about how she smelled or how her general appearance was messy. Instead, everyone expressed shock and hurt that she could no longer even realize that she was on her period.
While her specific situation or ‘reasons’ for appearing to be that ‘far gone’ might be interpreted by some as manipulative, I saw deeper. I saw it as real! It made me question a lot of things and it tripped me into a place of wanting to know more! I literally also started a ‘period’ savings fund, as a result of this experience. I still have that credit union account.” – Dr. Cindy Duke
A woman having her period is not and will never be a luxury. Besides the cramps, discomfort and often dreaded emotions of menstruation, another invisible problem, which is period poverty, has been long existing and we barely talk about these things in public — Not until this past October 19th, 2019 where we finally had the very first National Period Day!
WHAT IS PERIOD POVERTY?
The demand to make all period products readily accessible to ALL women and girls has continued to increase and become very urgent. The ever increasing costs for menstrual hygiene products, such as pads or tampons, are not just a pressing concern, they are now a necessary issue which need to be addressed. In fact, consider that the average menstruator spends about $400 – $2000 dollars funded only for their period products in an estimated 456 total periods over 38 years.
A much more alarming issue relating to period poverty is that it is truly a global situation. Most young women and girls around the world have missed out on different opportunities, such as education, because of a period. Let’s say, a young girl in school who has her period and therefore has to go home and miss a class due to having no access to period products. This happens! It even happens here, in developed countries like the United States. In addition, in some parts of the world, such as in parts of India, girls who start menstruating are barred from participating in many everyday activities. With this tradition, 23% of girls in India drop out of school once they start menstruating as they are unable to take exams. Other records suggest that in India, only about 12% of their menstruating women are able to reliably afford to buy and use sanitary napkins while the other 88% resort to other alternatives which are unsanitized and thus, causing about 70% more incidents of Reproductive Tract Infection as they cannot afford to buy sanitary napkins.
So, why is this all happening? NOT ALL STATES or COUNTRIES UNDERSTAND THAT PERIOD PRODUCTS ARE ESSENTIAL ITEMS TO MENSTRUATORS. What’s even worse is the implementation of the so-called “Pink Tax” which is a sales tax subjected to menstrual products. A pink tax is a subliminal statement that should a person who menstruates want to be more hygienic, they would have to pay more.
There is also the presence of the Tampon Tax. While the United States as a federal entity does not levy a specialized tax on tampons, there are still different states imposing a sales tax in such a way that tampons are taxed in the same way as most other than non-exempt, luxury items. Just imagine, in 2019, 35 US states still have a sales tax on period products.
ENDING PERIOD POVERTY
In 2014, Two high school students Nadya Okamoto and Vincent Forand co-founded PERIOD, after realizing the existence of period poverty. Today, PERIOD has become a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with over 450 registered chapters across the globe. On October 19, 2019, the organization called upon its growing chapters to rally in all 50 states to elevate this issue in efforts to make period products accessible for all. These people who rallied did not only include women! PERIOD called upon everyone, regardless of gender and menstruating capacities, to do their part in advancing this cause, forward!
DR. CINDY’S TAKE ON PERIOD POVERTY
Period poverty crosses racial, religious and cultural lines! No one should have to choose between buying food, clothing themselves or providing shelter for their family versus buying menstrual hygiene products! Plain & Simple. No young person should have to stop pursuing an education because they cannot afford period products and no homeless person should have to live without basic period care!
There are many ways that we can help bring this Period Poverty to an end. Here are my Top 5 suggestions:
⏩ Talk about this issue with your friends and family! By raising the topic, you will help break the silence on this societal taboo and raise awareness. The more people who think and talk about this issue, the more people who will agree that this is a no brainer and we should bring an end to the pink/tampon tax, at the very least!
⏩ Bring it up at the water cooler, at work or at your place of worship! Make it part of routine conversations!
⏩ Ask your elected representatives, or those seeking your vote, about it. We are in the full throws of the build up to Federal and Local elections, make sure it is on everyone’s agenda! This should not be a partisan issue.
⏩ Share this post and others!
⏩ When you consider making charitable donations, this giving season, consider donations of menstrual hygiene products or giving to foundations/missions that do.
Poverty is multifaceted but dignity for the poor should include adequate period care