COVID-19 has changed the world forever. It has even managed to change the Oscars, which had the lowest television ratings in its 93-year history this year. You could argue that the Oscars started to change in 2019 when a film about women in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, battling the patriarchy to manufacture cost effective pads for periods, won for best documentary short-- Period. End of Sentence.
Commenting on the win, Reese Witherspoon believed the best quote of the night was by the producer of the documentary short, Melissa Berton: “A period should end a sentence, not a girl’s education.” Unfortunately, in many parts of the world and for some in the U.S., periods cause girls to miss or drop out of school because of painful symptoms, menstrual taboos, period poverty, or a combination of these. Period poverty refers to the inadequate access to menstrual hygiene and education and tools such as sanitary products, washing facilities, and waste management.
More than 20 million women in America live in poverty. Let’s do some math: the average monthly cost of period products alone is $13.25 (not including additional costs such as days off work for bad cramps, medicine, or other natural remedies for uncomfortable period symptoms). The federal minimum wage for covered nonexempt employees is $7.25 per hour, so it can cost almost 2 hours of work to pay for period products each month. On top of that, 35 U.S. states tax period products as a non-essential luxury item (in contrast, condoms and erectile dysfunction medications are untaxed “essentials”). While I could get carried away with all the reasons that buying and using tampons is not a luxury, instead I will point out that based on the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, a 4-person household can earn a maximum of $26,500 a year ($2,208 per month for 4 people, about $552 per person). This means, there are millions of girls and women who cannot afford to buy menstrual products that are essential to stop blood from literally running down their legs. And in case you were wondering, food stamps cannot be used to purchase period products. What’s a girl to do?
The 2018 Always® Confidence and Puberty Survey found that 1 in 5 girls in the U.S. have left school early or skipped school altogether because they did not have access to period products.1 girls and women continue to lose their opportunity to learn, earn, or participate in daily life for up to a week every month. While students, low-income, imprisoned, and homeless women and girls, as well as transgender, nonbinary individuals are most affected in the U.S., the problem is much greater in many other countries where menstrual taboos or lack of bathrooms can prevent a girl from going to school. For instance, in India, more than 20% of girls drop out of school because they lack access to toilets and facilities to manage their periods and 70% of women say their family can't afford to buy pads.2,3