Women and girls across the world are lobbying to make menstrual products free or at least tax-free.

Photo illustration of an empty wallet and menstrual products.

Illustration: News Decoder

 This article, by high school students Samantha Crystal and Phoebe Diamond was produced out of News Decoder’s school partnership program. The two are students at the Hewitt School, a News Decoder partner institution. Learn more about how News Decoder can work with your school.

This story won first prize in News Decoder’s 13th Storytelling Contest.

When Sophie Ascheim was in her second year of high school, an English teacher assigned an article about menstrual equity. Inspired, Ascheim and a group of students partnered with Action India, an organization advocating for equality and access to health care and education for women, to launch The Pad Project with an international Kickstarter campaign.

Ascheim realized early on that many of the girls they were talking to in India eventually stopped returning.

“As they got their period and hit puberty, they stopped being able to attend school for a myriad of reasons,” Ascheim said.

This discovery revealed the impact of period poverty and menstrual inequity. But they realized too, that the problem was also prevalent back home.

“If there is a lack of access to housing, shelter, clothing and food in this country, which there fundamentally is, then there’s going to be a lack of access to period care products,” Ascheim said. “Perhaps even more so because it is a topic that we don’t discuss.”

The organization created the Academy Award-winning Netflix Documentary Period. End of Sentence. It also placed 13 pad machines and started nine programs on making washable pads in various countries around the world and started two programs within the United States to combat period poverty.

Without money for menstrual products girls stay home from school.

The Policy Lab at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia defines period poverty as inadequate access to menstrual hygiene products, facilities and waste management, in addition to improper education around menstruating and the increased economic vulnerability women face due to the financial burden of menstrual supplies.

While period poverty first gained attention internationally due to an increased percentage of menstruating girls dropping out of school in places like India and Sub-Saharan Africa, girls and women in the U.S. are also impaired by menstrual inequity.

Medical News Today revealed that two-thirds of the 16.9 million menstruating females living in poverty in the U.S. are unable to afford essential products.

While a significant percentage of the female population suffers in silence, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for people below the poverty line, also known as food stamps, does not cover feminine hygiene products.

According to an article in 2022 published by The Seattle Medium, one in five girls in the U.S. miss school while on their period due to a lack of access to products.

Given this, why are females disproportionately suffering from the financial burden caused by menstrual products when variations of personal hygiene products are essential for both men and women?

Men pay less for hygiene products.

Olivia Stone, a freshman at the University of Southern California and co-founder of Confident Healthy Women, an organization aiming to eradicate period poverty through education and donations, said she founded the organization when she noticed that sanitary products for boys and men were generally less expensive than those for girls and women.

According to the National Organization for Women, on average, a woman spends $20 on feminine hygiene products per cycle, amounting to about $18,000 over a lifetime.

Stone said she spends closer to $30 for higher quality and chemical-free products.

Given the steeper price for menstrual products, many shelters cannot fund the resources for women to provide sufficient products per menstrual cycle.

Many schools aren’t able to cover the cost of sanitary products even though the National Education Association reported in 2022 that more than 25% of students rely on access to products in school restrooms.

Lobbying for legislation to combat period poverty

In some instances, the school nurse charges students for tampons. That’s what happened in Hawaii until the Hawaii State Teachers Association lobbied the state government and got it to pass a law in 2022 that required free period products in the state’s public schools.

While students like Stone and Ascheim are paving the way for menstrual equity, there is still far more to accomplish with regard to legislation.

According to the Alliance for Period Supplies of New Haven, Connecticut, 24 states now exempt period products from sales tax.

The Pad Project has created a policy toolkit for people to lobby their government for legislation to combat period inequality. This “toolkit” includes letter templates to reach out to local legislators, ways to research and understand what laws are already in place and tips on how to make sure the already implemented policies get enforced.

“Where we are now is so much better than where we were in 2015,” Ascheim said. “Do I think we still have a long way to go? Absolutely. I look forward to the day that I no longer have to care this much about period poverty.”

Three questions to consider:

  1. How many states exempt period products from taxation?
  2. Why don’t all schools provide girls with pads or tampons? 
  3. If a school does not provide free period products to girls how might students convince the school to do so?
Samantha Crystal

Samantha Crystal is in the second year at The Hewitt School in New York City. She has a particular interest in criminal justice and entrepreneurship. She enjoys spending her free time cooking for her family and friends. At Hewitt, Samantha is the founder and head of the Innocence Project club, co-head of the business club and an active member of the debate team.

Phoebe Diamond

Phoebe Diamond  is in the second year at the Hewitt School in New York City. In her school, she is heavily involved in the business club and the student ambassador program. She enjoys spending her personal time with her family and playing squash.

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