Health: The Unseen Cost of an Undiscussed Topic

Text by Ella Lathan.

Consumers across America have seen a rise in costs on almost every item. Many supply chain issues have been seen across the board from baby formula to eggs and even period products.

According to the United States Census Bureau data suggests that in 2021 about 37.9 million people were experiencing poverty.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology reported in 2021 that about two-thirds of menstruating people who experience poverty had to choose between buying groceries or menstrual products at least once per month.

“I’ve heard of people reusing pads because they don’t have any other option,” said Dr. Lyndsay Mercier, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania‘s sexual health educator and Health Resource Center coordinator. “I’ve heard of people taking other people’s used products from the trash, like, in public places and using them. In all of those examples, you’re potentially introducing harmful bacteria into your body. Things like bacterial vaginosis could occur or even yeast infections.”

These types of infections can be extremely serious if left untreated.

The fundamental comfortability and taboo nature of talking about women’s health, access to knowledge period products, and even care has never served women or menstruating people.

“We should just all start free bleeding on public transportation” suggested Courtlyn Coleman, a domestic violence counselor at the Philadelphia-based Women in Transition (WIT). “Then they will get with the program real quick.”

She sees many clients who suffer from period poverty, which is particularly difficult for people from low-income and marginalized communities.

Many may not realize that not properly taking care of a menstrual cycle can have unforeseen consequences.

Mercier explained that puberty is hitting young girls much earlier than before, and they may not have the education or tools to practice good hygiene when it comes to their menstrual cycle. She expressed that many menstruating people feel a sense of embarrassment, shame and/or secrecy when it comes to their period.

Destigmatizing periods all together may be a good place to start when fighting against period poverty, she added, and that might push back against the belief of it just a menstruating person’s problem.

The more people can see conversations about menstrual health being normalized, maybe it can encourage the change menstruating people so desperately need, she continued.

Tampon and pad metal boxes usually located in women’s public restrooms, that require $0.25 to receive a product.

Food stamps and programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that are meant to help low-income families with household costs don’t cover menstrual hygiene products.

There are also other stressors that come with menstruation that some may not even think about.

“Living in an abusive relationship is really vulnerable, and it’s really scary,” said Courtlyn Coleman of WIT. “Many people try to create a long-term plan to be able to relocate but sometimes the violence gets too extreme and they have to leave. True survival instincts kick in and they are fleeing with nothing but a shirt on their back.”

Coleman explained that if someone is escaping a dangerous and violent situation, they probably are not remembering to grab period supplies.

Additionally, if someone is experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness, often accessing period products can become difficult as they are expensive and taxed as a luxury in 22 states.

Project HOME has a variety of programs that are geared toward helping people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

The Hub of Hope is a drop-in center run by Project HOME that sees around 150 people daily and offers them laundry, meals, clothing, transportation, shower and occupational therapy services.

Kikisha Williams, a hospitality and outreach coordinator at Project HOME explains that their showers are open from 7 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon, and they see at least 30 people daily for the showers.

Project HOME located on Fairmount Avenue.

“Out of those 30 of those you may see, one-third of them are women,” Williams said. “Women come in wrapped in soiled blankets due to [their] menstruating”

Project HOME supplies these women with period supplies that they can take with them but Williams noted that they operate through donations. It’s always better to have more.

“Every little bit counts,” Williams expressed.

According to alliance for PERIOD supplies, as of September, 22 states charge sales tax on period products.

The sales tax can range between four and seven percent, and some cities and counties impose their own added local sales tax on menstrual supplies.

Someone who is fighting period poverty daily in her community and across the nation is Lynette Medley.

Medley and her daughter Nya run No More Secrets Mind Body Spirit Inc as well as The SPOT Period menstrual hub found in Germantown.

“Nobody does what we do,” Lynette Medley expressed.

She seems to be right. There are other menstrual hubs across the country, however, an individual cannot request products – only organizations and schools can. That is what makes Medley’s model so unique. People from around the world have come to visit the hub in Germantown because of how well it has done in the 11 years since it opened.

WIT counselor Coleman emphasized that the more representation women can have in powerful roles, the better society becomes at being more equitable. It is difficult to have people care about something that has no apparent impact on them.

When tampons and diapers started disappearing from shelves in 2020 and 2021, it alarmed many people. They ran to Twitter and Tik Tok to express their outright frustration. However, it’s possible it did not even cross the minds of supply chain managers or factory suppliers.

As of 2022, about 75 percent of all supply chain managers in the U.S. are men, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“A lot of the research that we have about health, in general, is not inclusive of women and how things impact women in particular,” Coleman stated. “Maybe the answer is just continuing to push for more women in positions of power, continuing to diversify and get people who have that representation. The period thing should not be complicated at all. It’s not a matter of a choice or not. It’s a biological thing.”

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