It is time to end period poverty once and for all. Women have suffered enough.
- Women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and the continued tax (known as the pink tax) on menstrual products and products marketed to women only makes things worse.
- Last month, Scotland voted to make all period products free and became the first country in the world to do so.
- As millions more women fall into poverty because of the pandemic, period poverty will only increase. It's time the US addressed period poverty and ensured all women have the access they need to menstrual products.
- Ingrid Cruz is a freelance writer based in Mississippi.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our lives and forced us to look at systemic issues that marginalized peoples face. Women in particular have borne the brunt of many of the changes this year brought upon us. From women scientists who face additional barriers in their careers, to women of all classes and industries who were laid off, fired, or voluntarily left their jobs to assume caretaker duties, the pandemic has only exacerbated existing systemic barriers. On top of the additional challenges everyone has faced due to the pandemic, women were already dealing with a wage gap, a "second shift," crushing student loan debt burdens, and a pink tax.
The pink tax is the extra money women are charged for certain services, such as dry-cleaning, or upcharges in products that are marketed by gender. Some experts also include the taxes on feminine hygiene products, such as sanitary napkins, tampons, menstrual cups, and menstrual underwear. As of now, 35 states allow taxes on these products. States can make feminine hygiene products more accessible by eliminating these sales taxes, but that doesn't go far enough.
If Scotland can do it, so can we
In January 2019, well before the pandemic existed, Reuters reported that nearly two-thirds of working-class and poor women in the United States couldn't afford pads, tampons, or other menstrual products. Unable to use the proper means, women reported using items such as paper towels, rags, or even diapers so they could better manage their period. With all of the financial hardships women have faced this year, it's finally time to remove period poverty at once. States across the US have the power to change this and even look to other countries as a way to model their efforts.
On November 24, Scotland voted to make all period products free and became the first country in the world to do so. Monica Lennon, a member of the Scottish Parliament, has worked to pass this bill since 2016 — it came just in time to help Scottish women weather another year of economic uncertainty that can impede their ability to buy the menstrual products they need every month.
Periods themselves are still considered a source of shame. There are over 5,000 euphemisms for menstruation across the world, according to a 2016 study by Clue. Women are taught to hide their menstruation, be ashamed of having their products, and continue to partake in regular duties even when they're in pain. In come cultures, women are considered to be "dirty" during their period, and a lack of access to proper products can further exacerbate stigma as it can be difficult to stay clean and manage their period.
The Period Products (Free Provision) Scotland Bill explains that it's important to end period poverty in order to ensure everyone with a period can have dignity. The bill allows Scotland's 32 councils to decide how they will implement the newly-passed law on a local level.
As poverty grows, so will period poverty
8 million people became poorer as a result of the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Columbia University study. Though the economy was slightly more robust in 2019, homelessness was still a major issue in cities of all sizes across the United States. Per Syracuse University's Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion, homeless shelters have been COVID-19 hotspots because of the high number of people, shared spaces, and lack of personal protective equipment. Up to 12 million Americans could become homeless if eviction moratoriums, rent suspensions, or other aid isn't provided.
Students, homeless, and transgender communities faced uneven access to period products prior to the pandemic, as the cost of period products was a strain on their finances. This has only grown worse during the pandemic. The Center for Disease Control's (CDC) moratorium on evictions is only a temporary measure to prevent others from becoming homeless, but it expires on December 31. The financial impact of COVID-19 will be felt for years to come even for those who are able to secure a roof over their head.
With stimulus talks finally picking up pace, it's time the United States addressed systemic changes that can help women recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and live a life with dignity. Though period poverty has been an issue for years, the time has come to end the challenges women face and ensure all women have access to the products they need to manage their menstruation cycle without added financial pressures, stigma, and shame.
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