By Scott Blair

Period poverty is a global problem. However, it’s also a problem for millions of women in the United States. At the same time, it affects low-income women in Texas, while lack of access to toilets, running water, and waste management services compound the problem.

What is Period Poverty?

Period Poverty is the inability to access or afford menstrual hygiene products or a combination of these. Women who don’t have the means to purchase menstrual products or aren’t given the resources to acquire them are one of 500 million worldwide and 25 million in the US

Who Does Period Poverty Affect?

The average woman spends nearly seven years of her life menstruating. One study found that 64% of women were unable to afford period products over the course of a year, and 21% of those women had problems affording them on a monthly basis. At least half of the time, low-income women had to choose between menstrual products or food.

Another study found that 62% of women lack adequate resources for their menstruation needs, while single mothers and minorities suffer the consequences of period poverty at the highest rates. 

Period poverty affects some or most of the 25 million Americans living in poverty. On top of that, tampon prices have risen 9.8% in the past year, while menstrual pads have gone up 8.3%.

The Tampon Tax

The “tampon tax” is described by Global Citizen as a charge on menstrual products, meaning they have a value-added tax or sales tax. 

In contrast, items such as other essential health purchases like prescriptions, some over-the-counter drugs, clothes in some regions, toilet paper, condoms, and groceries don’t come with an added tax. Some less essential items like golf club memberships and erectile dysfunction pills are often tax-exempt as well.  Furthermore, you can’t use SNAP benefits to purchase menstrual products, which should be considered a necessity. 

The Effects of Period Poverty

Period poverty causes women and young women to miss school, work, or job interviews. It can also force women to use different objects instead of tampons and other menstrual products during their cycle. Not using proper menstrual products can cause bacterial infections, urinary tract infections (UTIs) and skin irritation. Women often have to choose between purchasing menstrual products or other necessities such as food, rent, or utilities. Period poverty also causes many women to suffer from mental health issues like depression and anxiety. 

What Can Texas Do About It?

First, Texas can start by repealing the “tampon tax.” There’s been a push of late to repeal the bill when the state legislature returns to session in January 2023. A bill can be filed in November of this year and voted on sometime next year.

Austin Democratic Rep. Donna Howard has been working on getting rid of the tax on tampons, pads, and liners for the past three legislative sessions. Ms. Howard says, “This is a discriminatory tax that impacts all women and girls in the state at some point in time for many years.” She states that other products like dandruff shampoo aren’t taxed and says women’s products should not be, either. “These are supplies you have to have,” added Howard.

Texas State Comptroller Glen Hegar says, “We need to make this change, and it is going to make a difference in people’s lives.” Hegar says the need really resonated with him after his wife and daughter volunteered at a food bank. The only question one woman asked was if she was receiving sanitary items.

Dallas Woman Doing Her Part

A young woman from Dallas is doing what she can to fight period poverty and support menstrual inequity. Emmy Hancock decided to start a fashion line with proceeds going to help impoverished women receive menstrual supplies. Ms. Hancock started the company on the day she graduated from the University of Penn. 

The former Hockaday School grad says, “A lack of access to period products is a basic rights issue and it’s not just happening in developing countries. It’s happening in our own backyards in the United States.” She continued, “It resonated with me so much because I had never considered a common drug store item to ever be an obstacle.” 

Her fashion line Oluna provides “a year’s supply of feminine hygiene products for every pair of pants sold. So, that’s about 240 pads a year. I chose to go with pads because those are the most universally accepted for religious or cultural reasons,” she said. “Donating menstrual products is the least sexy item to donate. People are doing coat drives and can drives. No one’s doing feminine product drives.”

What Else Can be Done?

Acceptance is a huge issue. Some women, especially younger women, are often afraid to speak up about their period. Therefore, they don’t get the help they need when facing period poverty. Normalizing the menstrual cycle will go a long way to ending period poverty. Advocating for women and urging your state representatives to pass bills that repeal the “tampon tax.” can also help. Or encourage them to add menstrual products as necessities purchased with a SNAP card or food stamps.