A Series on Menstrual Equity: The Problem with Period Stigma, Part I

Shark week. Aunt Flo. “That time of the month.” Whatever you call it, every woman experiences periods and the struggles that come along with it.

Scotland became the first country to provide free feminine hygiene products to low-income women and students. Although Canada, New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Illinois have all lifted their general sales tax from sanitary products, Scotland is the crusader for country-wide policy, announced August 24th. Scotland’s $6.6 million campaign, directed by Community Food Initiates North East (CFINE), will offer free feminine products for 6 months.

According to Dave Simmers, chief executive of CFINE, an average woman spends £5000 (almost $6500) on period products over her lifetime. Unforeseen expenses including medicine for cramps, new underwear and food to satisfy cravings, also add up quickly. At such a hefty expense, periods are steep price to pay for low-income families. Many girls to are forced to skip school or use dangerous methods that put their health at risk to avoid the cost. A survey from Young Scot revealed that one in four of Scotland’s 395,000 students experiences this reality. “In a country as rich as Scotland it’s unacceptable that anyone should struggle to buy basic sanitary needs,” Aileen Campbell, Scotland’s communities secretary told “The Cut.”

Monica Lennon, a strong advocate of abolishing “pink tax,” told “Independent UK” magazine she will soon “be launching a consultation…which will give all women in Scotland the right to access these products for free, regardless of their income.”

The campaign also sparked a global conversation of the stigma surrounding periods. Why are there euphemisms for menstruation? Why is it necessary to tuck away one’s tampon when carrying it into the bathroom? From a young age, girls are taught to hide everything related to their period. While privacy is perfectly normal, embarrassment from something so natural is not right. Whispering “I have to go change my tampon” to a close friend then excusing yourself for a different reason should be completely unnecessary.

During the 2016 Olympics, Fu Yuanhui apologizes for letting her team down after coming in fourth, explaining she is on her period. Many took to social media to applaud her breaking the stigma surrounding periods. As positive as the feedback was, the massive response demonstrates the abnormality still surrounding periods. However, freeing the topic up for conversation uncovers more issues.

For example, homeless women also face periods. People do not think to provide period products, making the necessity one of the least donated items according to “Period. The Menstrual Movement.” “NSFWomen” interviewed homeless women to gain perspective on their struggles without feminine products. “It is very difficult to be on your period and very uncomfortable” said Kailuh. Homeless women resort to using paper towels, napkins from restaurants, socks and old clothing they wash for reuse. “Sometimes if we can’t figure something out right away…we just sit still until we come up with something…You wanna feel clean like everybody else,” Victoria said.

“You shouldn’t have to decide between a pad or having lunch. This is about bringing dignity to women” New York City Council member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland said. Copeland is a strong campaigner regarding this issue, installing 25 free tampon dispensers in impoverished New York City school districts in 2016. Copeland recalls hearing numerous stories regarding the difficulty finding the provided products at school. According to Jackson Heights Post, the access to the free products affects 11,600 young women, providing them with essentials they would not have otherwise. The first machine was installed at the High School for Arts and Business in Queens and, according to Copeland, fewer female students were excused in class and attendance rose from 90% to 92.4%. The councilwoman continues to trailblaze, planning to introduce legislation in New York for free menstruation products.

Periods are a natural, inevitable part of life; crushing the shameful stigma behind the menstrual cycle will lead to discussions that provide more opportunities for women everywhere.

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