Buying and using tampons and sundry menstrual products is such a drag, right? Do you ever have cycles that make you wish that 4chan free bleeding meme wasn't just a hoax? Ha ha.
The unfunny truth is that millions of women around the world don't have ready access to menstrual products and safe sanitation facilities who are forced to miss work and school to avoid making a period mess in public. And it isn't just girls and women in the developing world who are affected. Hundreds of thousands of cis and trans Americans who have periods don't have the financial or legal freedom to dash off to the drugstore and grab a fresh box of menstrual cups or whatever other product, fit and style they prefer.
1. Homeless women, girls and trans men
According to the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, the United States "has the largest number of homeless women among industrialized nations and the highest number on record since the Great Depression." Although single men are likelier to be homeless compared to single women, women and single mothers make up a majority of adults in homeless and domestic violence shelters.
Menstrual products -- not to mention safe shower facilities to clean up -- are luxury for that population whether they're living on the streets or in shelters. A 2014 report from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty noted this often shameful and health-endangering situation homeless women and transgender men face: "Women also report the degrading condition of not having access to adequate facilities during their menstrual cycles to be able to use hygiene products and change them on a regular basis."
2. Poor women and welfare recipients
In a Guardian column advocating for free tampons, Jessica Valenti reported food stamps do not cover menstrual products. Which is unconscionable. As a result, Valenti writes, "some women resort to selling their food stamps in order to pay for 'luxuries' like tampons."
Sue Kerr at Huffington Post points out how buying menstrual products can be a particularly taxing financial burden for lesbian, trans and genderqueer households:
You can't buy these items with SNAP (food stamps). You can sometimes find a sale or a coupon, but you need a bunch of cash on hand to stock up for say six months. Some girls and women have very heavy flows and may use twice as much products as others. Reducing periods because you are poor is not a good reason to take oral contraceptives, which are also not always covered either. How about the fact that lesbian households (20% of us are on food stamps) means twice as many tampons and pads? And what about trans men or genderqueer individuals who face additional stigma?
Some of the most audience-delighting lifehacks featured on 'Orange Is the New Black' involve repurposing maxi pads. Need bathroom slippers? Duct tape maxi pads together. Or how about a face or sleep mask? Tie a maxi pad around your head. And though women prisoners who watched the show related to the maxihacks, menstrual products aren't always so abundant behind bars.
Over on the Ms. magazine blog, Maya Schenwar wrote: "Having reported on prison issues for the past four years, I've heard one recurring refrain from women prisoners: There are never enough feminine hygiene products to go around." Especially when jails and prisons face budget cuts, the limited number of free pads given to inmates (which may not last someone through a heavy cycle) are often among the first 'nonessential' items to go. And while tampons and maxi pads are typically for sale in prison commissaries, if someone is short on cash and menstruating, rationed toilet paper will have to suffice.
What you can do:
More Stuff Mom Never Told You about periods: A Brief History of Period Panties