How to Break the Cycle of Period Poverty

December 6, 2023

Period Poverty is a pervasive issue in the United States that demands urgent attention and comprehensive solutions. Defined as the inability to access menstrual hygiene products due to financial barriers, Period Poverty intertwines with economic challenges, social stigma, and a lack of public awareness or education on the topic. Understanding how to end Period Poverty is crucial, not only for the physical well-being of individuals but also for fostering a society that values equality and inclusivity for all.

Prevalence of Period Poverty in the United States

In the United States, the prevalence of Period Poverty is often underestimated. Many individuals, especially those facing economic hardships, struggle to meet the basic necessity of managing menstruation. One recent study revealed nearly 36% of women had experienced Period Poverty at some point in their lives.

Graphic depicts the prevalence of Period Poverty in the United States with a chart of over 33% filled in

Sadly, the companies that profit off menstruators’ monthly cycles are doing just fine with their current pricing structure. In fact, the global feminine hygiene product market was expected to grow from $25.37 billion in 2021 to $26.65 billion in 2022 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.1%.

For those impacted, Period Poverty affects their schooling, work attendance, mental health, and personal relationships. This silent crisis underscores the need for a collective effort to break the cycle and ensure that every person has dignified access to menstrual hygiene.

Economic Factors that Influence Period Poverty

Economic factors play a central role in perpetuating Period Poverty, creating a self-reinforcing mechanism that makes it challenging for individuals to break free from the cycle.

Some of the interconnected socioeconomic elements that contribute to this phenomenon include:

Low-Income Situations

Individuals with limited financial resources may struggle to allocate funds for menstrual hygiene products. This financial constraint can force them to opt for cheaper or improvised solutions –often rags or socks – compromising their health and well-being.

Budgetary Trade-offs

When faced with financial constraints, individuals may prioritize other essential needs, such as food, housing, or utilities, over purchasing menstrual products. This prioritization can lead to a continual lack of access to proper menstrual hygiene and stressors that perpetuate through generations.

High Cost of Menstrual Products

The economic burden of purchasing commercial menstrual products, such as pads or tampons, can be prohibitive for some individuals. The lack of affordable options in the market further exacerbates the challenge, making it difficult for those with limited financial means to manage their menstrual health adequately.

A woman sits on public transportation with her had resting against the window, eyes closed

Employment Challenges

For those entering the workforce, Period Poverty can become a hindrance. In some cases, the inability to afford proper menstrual products may lead to missed work days, reducing productivity and limiting opportunities for career advancement.

Breaking the economic factors contributing to Period Poverty requires comprehensive solutions, including targeted policies, increased access to affordable menstrual products, and efforts to destigmatize menstruation. Addressing these economic challenges is crucial for breaking the cycle and creating a more equitable and inclusive society.

Solution #1: Direct Product Support Programs

Solutions must start at the individual and household level. Programs that provide free period products enable all who menstruate to live their lives without interruption and help break the generational persistence of Period Poverty.

Across the US, Dignity Grows chapters support tens of thousands of Americans with critical menstrual products each year. Each chapter strengthens and expands the social service safety net of its own community.

Grassroots funding of these efforts are essential to their sustainability.

Solution #2: Empowering Communities

Empowering communities is crucial for breaking the cycle of Period Poverty through education, awareness, and creating supportive environments. Promoting menstrual health education enhances individuals’ knowledge, enabling informed choices.

Destigmatizing menstruation fosters open conversations and creates a more accepting atmosphere. Community-based support networks, including safe spaces for discussions and peer-to-peer programs, offer practical solutions and emotional support.

These initiatives collectively contribute to breaking down barriers, reducing the stigma associated with menstruation, and empowering individuals to manage their menstrual health confidently within a supportive community.

Solution #3: Breaking Down Cultural Barriers

Cultural norms often contribute to the stigmatization of menstruation, perpetuating misconceptions. To break this cycle, it is essential to actively challenge taboos by promoting accurate information.

Cultural norms affecting menstruation vary widely, influencing how societies perceive and discuss this natural biological process. By acknowledging and challenging these norms, communities can work towards creating a more inclusive and understanding environment. This involves highlighting the diverse experiences of menstruation, recognizing that cultural beliefs should not be a barrier to accessing proper menstrual hygiene, and engaging in open and science-based conversations about menstrual health.

A group of young adults sits around a speaker. A quote reads "by acknowledging and challenging these norms, communities create a more inclusive and understanding environment"

Promoting open dialogue is a key strategy in breaking down cultural barriers associated with menstruation. Encouraging conversations at the community level, in schools, and within families helps dispel myths and challenge preconceived notions. It is through these open dialogues that individuals can share experiences, correct misinformation, and collectively work towards normalizing menstruation.

Solution #4: Government Initiatives and Solutions

Government initiatives are pivotal in increasing the availability of menstrual hygiene necessities. Subsidies and tax exemptions on menstrual products can ease economic barriers and recognize those items as essential. Additionally, educational programs on menstrual health supported by the government can contribute to destigmatizing menstruation and challenging societal norms.

The two most common legislative initiatives aimed at combating Period Poverty are:

  • Bills that outlaw sales tax on menstrual products
  • Laws requiring period products to be provided at no cost in schools, correctional facilities, and homeless shelters

To date, Congress has passed two laws related to menstrual products on a national level. In 2018, Congress passed the First Step Act, requiring that all federal prisons make tampons and sanitary napkins available free of charge. The CARES Act of 2020 allowed menstrual products to be paid for with pre-tax dollars using a Flexible Savings Account or Health Savings Account.

There is still much room for government initiatives to help address Period Poverty.

Ending Period Poverty and Creating Menstrual Equity

Tackling Period Poverty requires everyone to jump in – individuals, communities, nonprofit organizations, and policymakers alike. Each of us can make a difference by spreading awareness, challenging antiquated information about menstruation, and supporting initiatives that make comprehensive hygiene products accessible to all.

Together, we can break the cycle of period poverty and ensure everyone has the right to manage their menstrual health without barriers.

Help make period products accessible to someone in need by donating today.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can we end Period Poverty in the US?

To end Period Poverty, government officials should enact policies ensuring accessible menstrual products, subsidies, and tax exemptions. Additionally, involving educational programs, destigmatization efforts, and the establishment of support networks will help generate menstrual equity. The key lies in collective action—individuals, communities, and policymakers must collaborate to create a society where menstrual health is universally recognized as a right.

What causes Period Poverty?

Financial constraints, limited access to affordable menstrual products, societal stigma, and inadequate menstrual health education are the primary causes of Period Poverty.

What is the prevalence of Period Poverty in the US?

The prevalence of Period Poverty can be challenging to quantify accurately due to factors like underreporting and varied access to resources. In one recent study, it was found that over 1/3 of women had experienced Period Poverty at some time in their lives.