“I didn’t know what else to do.”
This is a phrase commonly uttered by women across the world who face the harsh reality of being unable to afford sanitary products while they experience menstruation. Young girls often have to resort to make-shift means to go about their daily lives, using anything from socks to tissues. Period poverty refers to the lack of access to menstrual sanitary products due to financial constraints. This affects women all around the world, from impoverished areas to prisons (women are obligated to buy sanitary products rather than receive them for free). This includes decreased access to products such as pads and tampons, sanitation, water, and waste management. Poor sanitation and failure to properly take care of their bodies may cause physical health risks and damage to wellbeing, not to mention feelings of exclusion. Many girls cannot go to school due to their lack of access to period products and the shame they feel because of it, ending up missing multiple hours of class each month. Shockingly, many countries still apply tax to tampons, labelling them as luxury items.
It is estimated that the average woman spends more than $120 a year on pads and tampons. And consider pain relief for cramps (Ibuprofen costs between €3-7) and birth control (which can vary quite drastically). Not only this, but women with heavier flows will spend considerably more on sanitary products, and those with conditions such as dysmenorrhea (painful periods) may need more pain killers or special treatments.
Universities across the world are now beginning to wake up to the issue of period poverty. In 2018, the Scottish Parliament implemented a £5.2m scheme in order to supply Scottish universities, colleges, and schools access to free sanitary products. Another £4m was allotted this year. Their research found that 1 in 4 students actively struggled to access sanitary products, with 1 in 5 women experiencing period poverty. In Scotland, the University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh are both pioneering this scheme, and in the USA Brown University and Cornell are among many attempting to follow suit.
Menstruation is a fact, not a choice; billions of women around the world face this reality on a monthly basis. Former UNICEF Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene stated that, “meeting the hygiene needs of all adolescent girls is a fundamental issue of human rights, dignity, and public health.” When young girls miss school and women cannot go to work because of a lack of access to basic sanitary resources, we need to take a look at our policies. Tampons and pads at universities could alleviate a lot of the inconvenience, financial stress, and stigma surrounding periods. Not to mention, students could concentrate on what really matters, their studies, rather than whether or not they can go to class because they are unable to buy tampons. Moreover, female students are at a disadvantage for something they have no direct control over; maybe it is time to provide sanitary products just like we provide toilet paper. Admittedly, this is not an easy feat; while there are inevitable costs and organization issues to tackle, if other universities have succeeded, maybe the Netherlands can follow suit.
My name is Cassandra Langenskiöld and I am in my second year of the IBACS program. I am a writer and editor on the embrACE team for the second time this year.