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  • Writer's pictureBeth Bowen

Period Poverty is Not a Female Issue

We must, as a collective, stop lumping problems in this world into tidy little piles that are assigned to one group of people or another.

You are discriminated against because of the color of your skin? Oh, that’s a Black/brown/minority problem.

You are paid low wages because of the unskilled work you do? Oh, that’s a young person or uneducated person problem.

You are forced from your land because of large political forces and historical allegiances? Oh, that’s a localized, tribal, ethnic, or other group problem.

No, these are human problems that need to be solved by human beings who live here on this planet.

Take the issue of menstruation. Without this biological function, none of us would exist. The monthly shedding of tissue and blood from a uterus ensures the fertility of the being for the following month (at a minimum). Without this process, conception and gestation cannot take place.

It’s not something that is unique to one part of the world, one lineage, or one religion. Biology is our foundational similarity as sentient, followed immediately by our emotions.

Acknowledging this helps us understand that oppression of one person is oppression of all. An injustice against one is injustice of a system that governs all of us.

Menstruation, period poverty, and the health costs associated with them are not a woman problem. They are a human problem that should be addressed by all humans, borne by all humans, and honored by all humans.

Tampon Sales Tax

Why is 4-9% of the purchase price of a $20 product an important line in the sand which period equity activists draw with consistency? That 80 to 180 cents seems inconsequential in the fight against poverty in the world’s richest country.

But the amount of the tax isn’t the point. The point is that the tax assessment itself makes the following two statements:

  1. This is NOT a product essential to life like food and medicine.

  2. This is a cost of living that should only be paid by some people.

Both of these statements are unequivocally false.

Safe, sanitary, quality menstrual products are as essential to health as medicine. Without them, health is potentially compromised, disease is spread, life is endangered, and healthcare costs are incurred. These costs are shared by all of our society.

In the US, prevention is an often-ignored facet of healthcare and risk management in general. By planning ahead to offset future catastrophe, or just future inconvenience, the quality of life enjoyed by a set of employees, students, customers, businesses, governments, or any other grouping of humans can be improved.

By conserving resources, cutting costs, saving life and time, prevention is a solution to many problems that are perpetuated by the mere fact that the current solutions are reactionary and never address the true causes.

To prevent the negative consequences above associated with menstrual insecurity—disease, death, and monetary cost—all citizens should be in favor of prevention. Spend less now to spend less later. Less money, less time, less life. That’s the point of prevention.

Therefore, these products are essential to all lives and should be cultivated as a human right like food, water, and medicine.

Taxing essential menstrual products is a value statement. Luxuries are taxed because of the luxury of having the resources to pay for them. Purchasing menstrual products monthly for a majority of two to three decades is not a luxury. It is essential.

Menstrual Health Infrastructure

In my home state of Michigan, we are stewards of one-fifth of the world’s freshwater residing in the Great Lakes that surround us. And yet we are also home to the one of the largest human health disasters related to contaminated drinking water and failed government oversight in US history. The experience of the People of Flint, Michigan has shown that the often-invisible infrastructure used to deliver essential life resources to people is an existential system requiring vigilance.

The Pandemic of 2020/2021 has demonstrated failures of infrastructure systems in many countries when it comes to distribution of life-saving medicine, information, and health care. Public health was an invisible strength that the US held until COVID-19. The relatively high rates of vaccination and low rates of death by preventable disease (contagious disease at least) were taken for granted as our public health infrastructure was allowed to erode.

Menstrual health infrastructure can thus be created based on lessons-learned by these other incidents or suffer the same consequences.

Moving forward, menstrual health infrastructure must have these aspects built into the system:

  • Product quality

  • Accessibility

  • Adequate funding

  • Normalized processes

  • Maintenance processes

  • Feedback loops

  • Information/education campaigns

Without all of these aspects in place, period poverty will continue to plague our society, drain our resources, and inhibit quality of life.

By accepting this cost of life, practicing prevention and risk management, and investing in infrastructure, human beings can solve period poverty as a barrier to progress by the human race. This is a cost we all share; this is a solution we can all celebrate.

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