Welcome back Chaise Lounge readers and an extra warm welcome to our newest readers! This week we start a two-part series on period poverty. We will start with a look at what is happening here in North Carolina and next week we will zoom out and look around the country and the globe. Believe it or not, there is a lot of movement on this topic, so there is a lot to discuss. Before we get to periods, though, let’s take a look at other news. (Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d type!)
Samia Suluhu Hassan was sworn in as Tanzania’s new president following the unexpected death of President John Magufuli. Hassan had served as the Vice President during Magufuli’s first term and into his second. She will complete his second term which ends in 2025. There is much speculation as Tanzanian citizens wonder if she will continue Magufuli’s policy of ignoring the coronavirus, or if she will enforce measures to bring down disease counts. The former President refused to publish any COVID information, so it is impossible to know how much the country has been impacted.
Ukrainian chess champion, Anna Muzychuk, decided to skip the chess championship tournament in Saudi Arabia due to the kingdom’s mistreatment of women. According to Muzychuk’ Facebook post, “I am going to lose two world champion titles, one by one. Just because I decided not to go to Saudi Arabia. Not to play by someone’s rules, not to wear abaya, not to be accompanied getting outside and altogether not to feel myself a secondary creature.”
We Are Back To Bathroom Bills: But Not the Kind You’re Thinking of
Have you ever been in the bathroom and discovered that there was no toilet paper until it was too late? We have all been there and would agree that it is not a place we want to revisit. Or remember at the beginning of the pandemic when people were hoarding toilet paper? It just goes to show that we ALL want to have the necessary products to keep ourselves clean when it comes to bodily functions. So why aren’t period products considered as necessary as toilet paper?
For those who have not followed this topic or have not set foot in a women’s bathroom, period products are not provided in bathrooms at schools, prisons, or any other public building. Instead, people needing the products must provide for themselves. They are also taxed as luxury items. Can you imagine if you had to carry your own toilet paper around and pull out the roll on your way to the bathroom? And dignity aside, the real issue here is that 25% of people who menstruate are not able to reliably afford the products.
Period poverty is a relatively recent term explaining that many people are not able to afford basic period products like pads or tampons on a monthly basis. The effects of period poverty are greatest in low-income communities where people miss school and/or work because they lack access to products when they are menstruating. They also are more likely to contract infections from using inappropriate or unclean items like socks or rags. Period products are not covered by either SNAP or WIC programs, so both diapers and period products must be paid for out of pocket. Additionally, Medicaid funds do not cover period products either.
“We found that if mothers could not afford diapers, then they couldn’t afford period products. So we started to distribute those in the same way we do diapers.”
Presently, this problem is addressed by non-profits like the Diaper Bank of North Carolina. Michelle Old, the executive director, says, “We found that if mothers could not afford diapers, then they couldn’t afford period products. So we started to distribute those in the same way we do diapers.” After a couple of years of distribution, Old started hearing from teachers that girls were missing days of school due to lack of period products. So, with input from students, they started a program distributing period products to Durham Public Schools. They call the program “On the Spot” and now distribute around the state. They not only supply pads and tampons (tampons are not allowed in some schools because they claim they are “medical devices”, what?), but they also supply leggings and underwear in case of an accident so the students can stay in school for the day.
While this is all incredibly wonderful, why is a non-profit having to do all of this work and fundraising for a product that should be readily available?
New Coalition Forming
According to Michelle Old, a new organization named NC STOMP is just getting off the ground to bring together a coalition of organizations to address period poverty here in North Carolina. The initiative is based on a successful program in Georgia. The goals of the organization are:
Ending taxation on period products
Address period poverty and its effect on student’s education in public schools
Work with the North Carolina Emergency Management Agency to have period products listed and included in supplies following an emergency event
Ensuring that period products are supplied free of charge for incarcerated people
Legislation makes a difference
At the time of this posting, twenty states have removed the tax on period products. Presently, four states have made period products available in their public schools. And there is pending legislation in at least seven states as this goes to press. When New York City launched a pilot program, they found that attendance increased by 2.4%, significant enough that it became a statewide law.
Dignity at Stake
Many people, women included, are reluctant to talk about periods. Menstruation has long been stigmatized. Fortunately, the period poverty movement is working hard to remove that stigma and lay bare the stakes of ignoring the problem. Let’s break it down.
People who have periods need period products when they are having their periods. They cannot predict when their period will start exactly, or how long it will last, or how heavy their flow will be. Period products need to be available in restrooms in all public spaces free of charge. They need to be available to homeless people, incarcerated people and victims of natural disasters and other emergencies.
If people don’t have those products, they lose precious time at school or work thus interfering with their ability to move forward in life. It is a form of discrimination to provide other products like toilet paper and paper towels but not supply what people with periods need.
When a person bleeds onto their clothes, they feel embarrassed, as if they cannot take care of themselves. It also becomes a health and welfare issue. But the real issue is that we don’t take care of them by providing what they need. We can do this and it certainly should not be a political issue. It is a matter of human dignity.
If you or your organization is interested in joining the NC Stomp Coalition or just want more information or to make a donation, you can reach out to them here on their website.