It’s four in the morning in 2011. I wake up with an excruciating sharp pain in my lower abdomen, I can’t sleep, and my lower back hurts. As a 10-year-old, I was wondering what was going on with me; it honestly scared me being in that much pain so early in the morning. All I remember was that I watched four episodes of Make it or Break it to distract me from the pain until my mom woke up later that morning to tell me that I would soon be visited by my ‘Tia Flow’ (Aunt Flow). She then gave me ibuprofen to help with the period cramps I was experiencing; it hurt so much, and I felt like I was gonna throw up at any given second.
If I recall correctly, before this moment I really wanted my period, as all my other cousins my age had already gotten it, but as soon as I got it, I didn’t want it anymore. The day I got it was the start of the weekend I was going to my father’s house, so my mom sent me to his house with a pack of pads, a bottle of ibuprofen, and a heating pad to aid the pain I was in. Looking back on it, I consider myself so lucky to have access to such menstrual products and medicine, as many people who menstruate around the world aren’t as privileged as I am.
Over 500 million people around the world suffer because of a lack of access to menstrual products, which can take a toll on people in society. This is known as Period Poverty, an insufficient access to menstrual products and education. This also includes lack of access to sanitary products and showering. In the U.S., one in five teens have had difficulty buying menstrual products or haven’t been able to buy them at all; this leads to teenagers not being able to attend school. People are so embarrassed about their periods because of the societal stigma that surrounds it.
From a young age, we are taught to hide our pads or tampons in little bags, sleeves, or sweatshirts, and constantly check to see if our period blood has stained our clothes. It’s mortifying. This has a life-long impact on our lives because we face the stress of even the concept of a period due to it always being a prohibited topic. This is why some students don’t attend school when they are on their period: because of a stigma that was placed about it. A study done by Thinx & PERIOD shows that students would rather miss school on their period when they don’t have access to the basic necessities, such as pads, out of fear of being shamed.
The stigma that periods are bad comes from a lack of poor menstrual education in school systems. A period is often associated with being disgusting when it shouldn’t be. It’s a normal, biological function that happens once a month; it is not shameful nor embarrassing. It also shouldn’t invalidate women for how they feel; comments like “it must be that time of the month” undermines how someone feels because it makes it seem as if their feelings are irrational and lesser than people who don’t get periods. Everyone should be aware of how a human’s reproductive system works. Developing an open dialogue about periods could help spread awareness about reproductive health. Bodies deserve to be treated with more respect. Periods aren’t gross; they are a part of being a human with reproductive organs. It is a sign of good health.
The fact that a stigma is what prevents people from getting menstrual products is alarming. A period is not a luxury. It is not diamonds, or a yacht; it is a bodily function that we, as humans with vaginas, are born with. We did not ask for a period, so why are we taxed for having one? In the U.S., there is a “Tampon Tax” or a “Pink Tax” on tampons and pads because they are “non-essential items,” but items that aid erectile dysfunction and Rogaine are not taxed. In 49 states, Viagra and Rogaine are not taxed, while 38 states still tax period products. The argument for the period tax is that it isn’t a prescription drug like Viagra and Rogaine, but this is not fair. Tampons and pads are a basic necessity for those who menstruate. These should be products that we have easy and cheap access to in order to keep ourselves healthy.
The period tax does lead to period poverty, as not all people who do menstruate have the money to repeatedly buy pads or tampons each month. This creates an obstacle because it does lead people to not go to work or school on the week of their period. A study done by Harris Insights & Analytics found that in 1,000 teens ages 13 to 19, 20 percent of teenage girls surveyed can’t afford to purchase menstrual hygiene products. The study also shows 61 percent of teens get stressed when they don’t have access to the period products they need, which then leads to 25 percent of them missing school. People shouldn’t miss school because of their periods. This shouldn’t be tolerated anymore.
Policies that need to be put in place to end period poverty should include getting rid of the “Pink Tax,” proper reproductive education, and a way to make menstrual products more accessible. In my opinion, menstrual products should be free because I didn’t ask to bleed for 10 days a month. Bringing awareness and erasing the stigma about periods will help create a safe environment for those who have periods. By erasing the stigma, it makes it easier to discuss periods because they aren’t a taboo topic; it’s natural. I’m not saying that we should be talking about periods all the time, but having discussions helps shine a better light on menstruation. As today, Oct. 10, is the second National Period Day, I hope that more people are aware of period poverty.
Featured Photo: Sage Amdahl / Quaker Campus