Globally, 3.5 billion women have monthly periods. According to charitable organization Days for Girls, over 500 million women and girls, nearly 25% of all menstruators, experience “period poverty.” Over 500 million women do not have access to feminine hygiene products.
According to Thinx and PERIOD, one in five teenagers in the United States have struggled to afford period products. According to the Days for Girls website, period poverty is a term used to describe the lack of access to adequate menstrual health management supplies and education for women and girls.
According to the Days for Girls website, many women are unable to afford feminine hygiene products because of how expensive they are. This lack of resources and supplies for menstrual health can have negative consequences on women.
Expensive prices for feminine hygiene products
According to Pandia Health, if a woman was to use one tampon every six hours and four tampons are used every day, that would equal to 20 tampons for every five-day menstrual cycle, totaling to 9,120 tampons in their life. If a box of tampons cost $7 and there are 36 tampons in one box, the cost for a lifetime would equal to $1,733.33.
With panty liners, an estimated average would be $433.33 per lifetime.
If a woman was to use three to five pads a day over a five-day period, they would likely spend around $4,752 in their lifetime on pads.
If a woman leaked during periods and one ruined panty cost $5, it would cost $2,280 for 456 periods.
On top of the high prices on period products, there is also a “pink tax” on feminine hygiene products. According to Investopedia, “pink tax” is a price discrepancy in which services and products marketed to women cost more than identical products or services marketed to men. Out of the 50 U.S. states, 30 states still have this pink tax.
“In Utah, period products are taxed as a luxury item, but condoms aren’t taxed,” said BYU alumna and Days For Girls global advocacy director Diana Nelson. “It’s under a pink tax because feminine hygiene products aren’t seen as a medical necessity, but as a luxury.”
According to Period Equity, many people, including women, believe feminine hygiene products should not only be tax free but free in general. The website continues to say menstrual products should be freely accessible in schools, shelters and correctional facilities.
“It’s gender inequality and people don’t even think about it because we don’t even talk about it,” Nelson said.
College students affected by period poverty
Women attending university campuses across the U.S. have been affected by period poverty and have been unable to buy feminine hygiene products because of how expensive these products are.
According to private surveys from Penn State Days for Girls Club, 49% of respondents started their period on campus and were unable to find period products. Approximately 13% of respondents also missed school or work because of a lack of access to period products.
Nelson shared a memory she had with her roommate when she attended BYU. Her roommate would often take toilet paper and make them into pads. At the time, Nelson didn’t realize her roommate was unable to afford pads, and therefore had to use makeshift pads that were uncomfortable and hard to use.
“I look back and I put all of it together. I realized I had all these pads I could have shared with her, but I didn’t know at the time,” Nelson said.
BYU Women’s Services & Resources Director Dixie Sevison said the office has a drawer full of different feminine hygiene products available for students, and they don’t limit on how much each student can take. Any student who needs feminine hygiene products can go to the Women’s Services & Resources office and take as much as they need.
Sevison said other university campuses have started offering feminine hygiene products to students for free on campus. Women’s Services & Resources has also started working on a proposal to BYU which would offer free feminine hygiene products to women on BYU campus.
Presenteeism and Absenteeism
Women on periods may also struggle with presenteeism, a loss in productivity when employees are unable to fully function because of their period cramps or pain, according to Reuters Health.
Nelson said women who struggle with periods and period poverty can be physically present at school or work, but absent in their minds because of a fear they might be leaking and pain from period cramps.
Nelson said there have been instances of women being called up to share a presentation or to show their work, and been unable to do so in fear of leaking.
According to Days for Girls, absenteeism is another implication of not having access to feminine hygiene products or having extreme menstrual pain. Absenteeism is failure to report or remain at work or school as scheduled.
In March 2018, a period tracker app called Clue said 18% of women in the U.S. missed school, work or an event because of menstruations.
Nelson said pain and fear can impact women detrimentally — including their school and work performance. This could cause women to lose jobs or do poorly on performance reviews. This would affect women’s sources of income and put them at a further risk of losing their jobs and/or create a risk for poverty.
Raising awareness about period poverty
According to The Pad Project talking about periods may be uncomfortable at first, but as women and people speak out more about menstrual health, it will allow society to confront the issues surrounding it.
Nelson said creating a safe space where all people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation can feel comfortable talking about periods would be an important step in combating period poverty. “We can’t change something until we’re aware of it.”
Nelson said Americans are more comfortable talking about sexually transmitted diseases than they are about menstruation. “People would rather talk about gonorrhea than periods. Because we don’t talk about it, we don’t know it’s a problem.”
Jessica Blotter, Days for Girls volunteer and BYU kinesiology and exercise science student, said it’s not a choice for women to go through menstruation. It’s natural and normal and shouldn’t be something they are ashamed about.
Blotter said even when she’s open about periods and cramps, some of her friends, especially male friends, have gotten embarrassed talking about it.
She said her roommate would stay home when she was on her period and refrain from spending time with other people because of a lack of understanding of periods and the culture where she was from. People from her culture told her she should stay home and refrain from interacting with other people, especially other men.
“Periods should be normalized, especially at BYU — you shouldn’t have to feel like you’re different because you’re going through your period,” Blotter said.
She hopes to raise awareness about periods and period poverty, and normalize talking about it. She also hopes to start a Days for Girls club or a club that raises awareness about menstrual health on BYU campus.
Nelson said it must have been embarrassing for her friend to be in an environment where she should have had the supplies but couldn’t afford them because of expensive product prices. Her roommate couldn’t ask others for the help she needed, because no one talked about it.