What pediatricians can do to help fight menstrual poverty
Period poverty is not just a problem in third world countries or among low-income women. In the United States, women of all ages still struggle to afford menstrual products, which are too often viewed by commercial markets and governments as a luxury item rather than a basic hygiene necessity. personal.
For adolescent girls and young women, lack of access to menstrual supplies can have far-reaching effects, even negatively affecting things like time in class.
Menstrual fairness movements have gained momentum in recent years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fact that there is still much work to be done.
According a survey commissioned by Thinx and PERIOD, nearly a quarter of all school-aged students struggle to afford menstrual products, and 16% had to choose between buying menstrual products or food and clothing. While this is a problem faced by all socioeconomic groups, the report says Latino, low-income, rural, and college-aged students are most affected.1
Schools have long been a resource for many students who struggle to access menstruation supplies, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made that more difficult. Nearly a third of students in the survey said returning to school after COVID-19 closures was a relief in terms of menstrual support, but 3 in 5 students say free hygiene products are still rarely available in their school toilets.1
However, it’s not just anxiety and shame that can develop from menstrual poverty. About half of students surveyed said they wear menstrual products longer than recommended due to lack of resources, and 1 in 10 students worldwide miss school during their period due to a lack of access to period products. ‘hygiene.2
Many issues contribute to the problem of menstrual poverty, but about three-quarters of students surveyed want more education and advocacy around menstrual health and access to hygiene products. This is where pediatricians can help.
Pediatricians often ask families and patients about access to all sorts of basic needs like housing and food, but menstrual products are often not enough.1
Elise Joy, executive director and co-founder of Girls Helping Girls Period, a New Jersey-based nonprofit, says pediatricians need to keep in mind that multiple forms of poverty often go hand in hand. Joy and her daughters formed Girls Helping Girls Period after volunteering at a local food bank and realizing nutrition wasn’t the only thing visitors to the resource center lacked.
“Where there is a period of poverty, there is most likely food insecurity. I recommend anyone struggling to start visiting a pantry. Although they are not created equal, more and more people are seeing the need to provide menstrual products,” says Joy. “They can also be rare in pantries, but in many states, like our state of New Jersey, state food banks have begun to stock vintage products.”
Organizations like Girls Helping Girls Period raise funds and awareness to help secure hygiene products for food banks so they can be distributed to those in need. Joy says the need has been there for a long time, but the increased use of food banks during the COVID-19 pandemic has really highlighted the problem.
Pediatricians should direct patients and families who report or are suspected of having food or housing insecurity to additional resources that can help them with all of their needs, including menstrual products.
Advocacy is another important area where paediatricians can have a strong voice on menstrual poverty. There are many state and federal laws recently passed or under consideration that aim to reduce menstrual poverty and skewed prices on gender-specific hygiene products. Some states have repealed or banned so-called “pink taxes” or “stamp taxes” that add a luxury tax to basic vintage goods, but 35 states still have those laws on the books.3
“States are slowly realizing that providing basic period products is part of their responsibility in the public education of students,” says Joy. “There has been a huge outpouring of advocacy across the country from students and families demanding that pads and tampons be offered, free of charge, to students for use at school.”
Nor should pediatricians limit their advocacy efforts to the legislature. Check your state’s laws and make sure they’re enforced in your local schools, she says.
“There are many places that have these mandates on the books, but they haven’t been well implemented. If your state law says there should be free products at school and your child can’t find them, help make a change. Write a letter to the principal. Make a presentation to the school board. Get other parents involved as well,” says Joy. “Can you imagine having to fuss so much to get toilet paper in the bathrooms? Of course not. Students tell us that not having towels or tampons in the bathrooms sends a strong message that ‘they are not a priority and their education is not as important to educators as that of their non-menstruating peers.
Pediatricians can also help parents and their children have open discussions about menstruation, menstrual products, and other personal hygiene methods to help reduce stigma and fears around these topics.
“It doesn’t have to be a table discussion, but there’s no way to normalize the rules if we don’t all help break the taboos. It is primarily because we do not talk about it openly that this problem of menstrual poverty exists”, adds Joy. “Until we all play a part in the change, we can expect things to stay the same. Students today are fantastic at talking about difficult topics – they need to teach their parents to do the same. I think pediatricians can really help normalize the conversation just in their approach to talking to patients and families. If they are open and pragmatic in the doctor’s office, it will go a long way to letting the patient and family know that it is okay to talk about it, to ask for help, to ask questions about their own bodies .
The nonprofit National Menstrual Products Alliance also offers national support for menstrual supplies in partnership with the National Diaper Bank Network. The Alliance for Period Products works with a network of 120 community organizations which can be found here.
Program director Jennifer Gaines offers the following advice for pediatricians whose patients are dealing with menstrual poverty.
- Take a basic needs-based approach with the patient and ask direct questions:
- Do you know how to use menstrual products?
- Do you have access to the menstrual supplies you need to manage your period?
- Are you and/or your family struggling to get the supplies you need to manage your period?
- Do you know of resources in your area that can help you provide free menstrual products?
- Organize or identify educational workshops for parents and children on the rules and use of the products.
- Consider keeping menstrual supplies in stock at the office and providing the patient with enough supplies to handle a full cycle.
- Identify and establish community partnerships with local basic needs organizations.
- To find out if an agency in your area provides menstrual supplies to people in need, please contact the local service directory in your area by calling 2-1-1 or going online at 211.org.
- Ask about or search for vintage supplies or basic necessities.
- Also check the listings under women, girls, families or transgender people.
- If you still can’t find a resource, try local faith-based organizations and food pantries.
- period.org. (2019.) Period State: The widespread impact of period poverty on American college students.
- unesco.org. (2014.) Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2013/4.
- period.org. (2021.) State of Period 2021: The Widespread Impact of Period Poverty on American College Students.