HealthEd

Period Poverty: The Belittling of a Basic Need

Alexandra A. Alvarez
Published on Jan 11, 2021. Updated on Jan 11, 2021.

Millions of people around the world lack adequate access to hygienic menstrual products—a stark reality that the American Medical Women's Association (AMWA) is working tirelessly to change. In today’s guest post on the Osmosis blog, Alexandra A. Alvarez, National Premedical President of AMWA, explores the topic of period poverty and shares how her organization Generation Flow is helping to end the stigma around menstruation and promote menstrual equity. 

What is period poverty? 

Once a month, people who menstruate must use hygienic menstrual products, and while many health options exist in regards to menstruation (birth control, menstrual cups, etc.), many people may be unable to use them for a multitude of reasons. The most common being a lack of accessibility. 

Period Poverty is defined as the inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and education. This includes access to washing facilities, waste management, and more. Students, people experiencing homelessness, and people with disabilities are at a higher risk of dealing with period poverty. This issue affects people all over the globe and certainly, the United States is not immune. 

Globally, 2.3 billion people live without basic sanitation services and in developing countries, only 27% of people have adequate hand washing facilities at home, according to UNICEF. Not having proper access to basic sanitation makes it much harder for people who menstruate to manage their periods safely. According to the 2014 Shriver Report, there are at least 42 million impoverished women in the United States, many of which experience the indignity and shame of being unable to care for themselves during their periods.

Even if a person can afford menstrual products, the annual and lifetime cost of buying taxed products is a burden on people who menstruate. The “Pink Tax” refers to the extra amount that is placed on “feminine” everyday products like razors, shampoo, haircuts, clothes, dry cleaning, and more. This “tax” applies to items purchased throughout a woman's entire life and further contributes to period poverty. 

Currently, 35 out of 50 U.S. states tax menstrual products as non-essential items or deem them as “luxury” items while more “masculine” products like erectile dysfunction medication are not taxed. Moreover, food stamps, Medicaid, and health insurance spending accounts do not cover the cost of menstrual products for people who menstruate.

Osmosis illustrated quote defining the Pink Tax.

Why is it important to address period poverty? 

All of these barriers make the consequences of period poverty much more severe. Without the proper access to hygienic products, the everyday lives of people who menstruate are extremely hindered. They may not be able to leave their homes, go to school, go to work, and may suffer from health issues such as Toxic Shock Syndrome.

Furthermore, COVID-19 as a whole has made things worse for those experiencing period poverty by leaving marginalized populations that were already struggling at even more of a disadvantage due to a lack of products, “panic buying,” and a lack of financial aid to purchase these items. 

Osmosis illustrated quote about how panic-buying is reducing access to menstrual care products.

What can be done about period poverty? 

These consequences and statistics only emphasize the importance and the demanding need to raise awareness on issues like Period Poverty. While there are a growing number of people and communities working towards change, the United States still has a long way to go when it comes to advocating for reproductive and menstrual rights. Through educational reform and global advocacy, work can be done to greatly improve access to hygiene facilities and products, reduce the stigma and shame associated with menstruation, and encourage people to learn about the importance of period poverty. 

What is AMWA’s role in fighting period poverty? 

AMWA has taken part in this effort by encouraging our members and branches to create their own advocacy campaigns. We have highlighted this issue on our own website and created advocacy pamphlets designed for members to use to educate their communities. 

During my time at UC Berkeley, I, along with two of my best friends, created an organization called Generation Flow that focuses on ending the stigma surrounding menstruation as well as raising awareness both on campus and in our community on issues surrounding menstrual equity. We at AMWA are constantly encouraging our members to reach out to similar organizations near them to help advocate for and empower people around the world who menstruate.  

The absence of menstruation in our everyday conversations is just one contributing factor to the stigma that surrounds menstruation today. AMWA is incredibly grateful and honored to partner with Osmosis and use their platform to discuss this important health disparity issue. 

About Alexandra A. Alvarez

Alexandra Alondra Alvarez (she/her/hers) is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley (Class of 2020) who studied Molecular and Cell Biology with an emphasis in Cell and Developmental Biology and minored in Toxicology. She conducted an independent research honors thesis with the Bautista Lab at UC Berkeley examining Sex Based Differences in Chemotherapy Induced Peripheral Neuropathy Associated Pain.

She is currently in her gap year and is the National Premedical President of the American Medical Women's Association. Aside from AMWA, Alexandra is a huge chai enthusiast who enjoys musical theater and traveling. She plans to pursue a Medical Doctorate Degree while focusing on raising awareness on women's health and issues affecting underrepresented populations. 

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