Health Policy

November 21, 2023: Period Poverty and Insecurity

Posted on January 11, 2024 at 12:00 AM

by Kathy Hochman, Director of the Public Policy and Political Action Committee

When DC Councilmember Brooke Pinto spoke at a WNDC luncheon in November, we learned a lot about the initiatives she is actively supporting to address homelessness, affordable housing, youth programs, crime, gun violence, and the city’s challenges in hiring police officers. However, one of her accomplishments stood out: passage of the legislation she introduced to provide free menstrual products to DC middle and high school students, Expanding Student Access to Period Products Act of 2021.

This initiative grew out of a critical global issue that is overwhelmingly affecting people’s health and livelihood. Worldwide, women and girls live without basic sanitation services and are suffering indignities because they do not have access to affordable sanitary products necessary during menstruation. Period poverty, or the lack of information and education about menstruation as well as access to menstrual products, does not exclude the United States. It is astonishing that a natural human function still remains a taboo subject in many world circles.

An article published by American University on March 1, 2023, “Globally to Locally, Period Poverty Affects Millions,” states that “according to the World Bank, as many as 500 million people across the globe lack access to basic menstrual products and hygienic bathroom facilities for use during their menstrual cycles. This lack of affordability and accessibility, coupled with cultural stigma and other societal factors, plays a large role in perpetuating the cycle of what is known as “period poverty.’”

Affordable and accessible menstrual products are vital to maintaining good hygiene and overall health and avoiding serious health risks. And the problem extends beyond health. People who lack access to supplies that many of us take for granted often miss school or work when they have their period, which negatively impacts their learning and employment potential. Studies have shown that one in four teens have missed class because of this situation. Period poverty affects all menstruators, but especially those who are low-income, homeless, in college, imprisoned, or transgender.

It is surprising that the global impact of period insecurity is a relatively new issue that only started to be addressed in the last 20 years or so. In March 2019, stakeholders from around the world, including government officials, health care professionals, and NGO representatives concerned about this issue, met in Geneva to establish a global plan to do something about it. As a result, advocacy groups are working together toward solutions to this problem considering the worldwide economic, cultural, and educational challenges.

In an effort to reduce period poverty, many governments are starting to recognize the need to establish programs to help people obtain the products they need. The first country to take active measures was Scotland, which in November 2020 passed a law that provides period products free of charge to all people who require them.

In the United States, lawmakers are fighting to end period poverty with menstrual equity laws. State and local governments are starting to pass laws to provide free or at least tax-free menstrual products and ensure that such products are easily available in communal places such as schools, prisons, homeless shelters, and public restrooms. In 28 states, period-related products are taxed as if they are nonessential luxury products.

At the federal level, Reps. Grace Meng (D-NY) and Sean Casten (D-IL) introduced the Period PROUD (Providing Resources to Our Underserved and Disadvantaged) Act of 2022 to expand accessibility to menstrual products. This legislation is still pending today.

I encourage WNDC members to learn more about this issue. While it is understandable that many of us may have thought that this is a problem found in developing countries or in places where social norms and stigmas treat people who are menstruating as unsanitary or untouchable, the problem exists in our own country in plain sight. I also think engaging with organizations where we can contribute to the solution of period poverty would be a noble cause for WNDC.

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