State lawmakers and advocacy groups gathered at the state Capitol earlier this week to raise awareness about menstrual hygiene and improving access and affordability of menstrual products and care. This past Sunday marked World Menstrual Hygiene Day.
According to the Alliance for Period Supplies, a coalition of programs that collect, warehouse and distribute menstrual and period supplies in communities nationwide, 40% of people in the U.S. struggle to afford the price of menstrual hygiene products. It also found 25% of American teens report missing to class because of this and 33% of adults say they’ve had to miss work, school or similar commitments due to lack of access to period supplies.
“Half of the world’s population menstruates, yet menstruation is highly stigmatized, capitalized on and outright ignored. Adequate access to menstrual products affects us all, but devastates our low income communities and communities of colors most,” said Claire Jennings, co-founder of Capital Region Menstrual Health, on Tuesday. “No one should have to miss school work or daily life because they are unable to afford the products they need. Yet, this is a reality right here in our own communities.”
A study found the COVID-19 pandemic also exacerbated the issue, finding that 30% of respondents struggled to find access to menstrual products during the pandemic.
Menstruation products are not currently covered by Medicaid, the WIC program or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. Additionally, many states charge sales tax on period products, while products such as erectile dysfunction medications like Viagra and hair-loss products like Rogaine, are not. New York eliminated its “Tampon Tax” in 2016. It also passed a bill last year to make menstrual products free at shelters serving domestic violence victims, homeless youths and others in need.
Democratic State Sens. Michelle Hinchey, D-Saugerties, and Lea Webb, D-Binghamton, introduced a resolution to the state Senate floor Tuesday afternoon to call attention to the issue.
“In almost every community across New York State, there are people who can’t afford [menstrual products]. Stigma, financial barriers and sexism around menstruation force millions of people into period poverty,” she said. “This is a dilemma that no person should ever have to face.”
Hinchey said there is currently a bill pending in the state Legislature this year to make menstrual products available for free in all SUNY and CUNY schools.
In 2018, New York passed a law requiring all elementary and secondary public schools to provide menstrual products in school restrooms at no cost. However, advocates say product stigma and rising costs have made it difficult to implement the policy.
Webb said the social stigma surrounding these conversations is an example of how women continue to be under attack.
“For the things that happen naturally to our bodies, our ability to have autonomy over our bodies, our abilities to make decisions about our bodies,” she said. “Due in large part to policies and practices that inadvertently — and sometimes intentionally — create barriers that exacerbate disparities.”