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Why Feminine Hygiene Products Should be a Human Right, Not a Luxury.

Why Feminine Hygiene Products Should be a Human Right, Not a Luxury.

The last time you walked into a public restroom or bathroom at school or work, how much did you pay for the toilet paper you used? Allow me to answer that, you paid nothing. It would probably never occur to you to carry around a spare roll of toilet paper in case you needed to use the restroom away from home, right? Tampons and pads serve the same purpose as toilet paper, to ensure cleanliness for our everyday bodily functions. So why aren’t they provided for free in public spaces such as bathrooms? This raises the question, if men got their periods, would we even be having this conversation?

In most developed countries, girls can purchase a pad or tampon in most public restrooms for 25 cents, but what happens if a girl gets her period and doesn’t have a quarter to plug into the vending machine? Or what if having to buy feminine hygiene products every month put undue strain on her family’s financial situation? This is the reality for millions of young girls and women all over the world. For many women, getting your period means additional expenses, days away from school, and risking regular infections. Simply because the government doesn’t recognize feminine hygiene as a health issue.

Menstruation has always been a topic that girls feel embarrassed to talk about. However, nowadays the taboo surrounding talk of menstruation is being broken. Over the past few years, menstruation has become a much more popular topic of discussion amongst the public. Although not everyone feels comfortable talking about (or sees the relevance) in having a conversation about periods, the discussion is going on. After years of being raised to feel ashamed of our normal bodily functions, more women are finally speaking up about the need for society to treat feminine hygiene products as a basic necessity.

“Tampons and pads should be treated just like toilet paper. They serve the same purpose, items to tend to our everyday, normal bodily functions,” Nancy Kramer told The Huffington Post in an interview. Nancy is one of many woman behind “Free the Tampons,” a campaign she started up in Ohio to put free tampons and pads in all restrooms outside of home. “If men got their periods, we would not be having this conversation,” she said. According to Nancy’s research, it only costs about $4.67 per female student or employee to provide free sanitary products annually. “In other words, for less than a fancy cup of coffee, you can supply a woman with feminine hygiene products for a year,” she said.

When tampons and pads aren’t available, the alternatives that women and girls use can be extremely dangerous to their health. Some of these alternatives include using products like tissue paper, toilet paper, and even rags. Another one of these alternatives includes keeping a tampon in or pad on for extended periods of time, because they can’t afford to purchase more, or because they are not readily available.  This can lead to a variety of different infections, like bacterial vaginosis, urinary tract infections, and in more serious cases toxic shock syndrome. TSS is a fatal condition caused by the release of poisonous substances from an overgrowth of bacteria, which most commonly occurs when a woman wears a tampon for too long.

Besides being a health hazard, periods are also an added stress in a woman’s life that men simply never have to experience. Women must always scramble to ensure that they’re covered, so that they don’t have to fear being publicly humiliated for “leaking”. At most public schools, tampons and pads are hidden away in the nurse’s office, or you must purchase one for $0.25 at a vending machine located in the girl’s restroom. Either way, this causes adolescent girls (who are already dealing with a lot of insecurity issues) to draw unwanted attention to themselves,  just so they can have access to a sanitary napkin.

I’m not the only person who believes that pads and tampons should be free. According to a study done by Free The Tampon, 50% of women (but only 36% of men) agree with this end goal. It’s no surprise that so many women feel this way, given that over 86% have found themselves in a situation where they needed a tampon or pad, and didn’t have access to one.

The average women will spend about 6.5 years of her life on her period, and will use about 25 tampons and 10 pads during the span of one period. In a girl’s lifetime, this adds up to about 11,400 tampons and 4,560 pads. Since a box of pads or tampons typically ranges from $5.00 to $10.00 (depending on the brand), this adds up to about $18,171 worth of necessary menstruation products in a woman’s lifetime. This is an unimaginable number, especially for poor or homeless women around the world. $18,171 doesn’t even include any of the added costs that often come with a women’s period, like pain medications, liners, new underwear, or birth control.

A month’s supply of something as simple as a box of pads or tampons can be one expense too many for struggling families. In fact, there are many cases where girls actually wind up missing school during their periods, simply because they cannot afford the proper products, and must stay home as a result. In countries where feminine hygiene products are unaffordable, menstruation can mean increased dropout rates, missed school, and infections due to unsanitary menstrual products. One study showed that in Bangladesh, 73% of female factory workers miss an average of six work days every month because of their periods. Another study done by The United Nations Children’s Fund estimates that 10% of African girls don’t attend school during their periods.

There are even some celebrities who have recognized the cost of feminine hygiene products to be a problem for many women around the world. Former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, discussed at the “Let Girls Learn” initiative event that the inability to afford feminine hygiene products can drastically affect girl’s productivity in school. Then factor in the embarrassment that many girls are made to feel about menstruation, and periods can become a major disruption to their ability to achieve academically. No girl should have to miss school, risk their health, or compromise their dignity because of menstruation.

If something as simple as a pad or tampon can keep a girl in school, then why aren’t they supplied in public spaces such as bathrooms? Well, the state laws crafted by legislators (who for the most part are men, who don’t think about menstruation) do not include feminine hygiene products on the list of medical products free from sales and luxury taxes. In fact, some countries tax tampons as much as 18%. To put that into perspective, here are some other things classed as medical necessities that are exempt from sales tax: Razors, chapstick, facial wash, dandruff shampoo, and adult diapers.

The tampon tax is discrimination against woman, and is wrong on so many levels. It is mind blowing to think that there are still people out there who consider feminine hygiene products to be “luxury items”. Newsflash, they aren’t optional. As women, we need pads and tampons, and we cannot go without them. Yet, the government still makes about $14 million dollars every year taxing women’s products. That’s $14 million being made off of a woman’s natural biological functions, completely out of their control.

So as you can see, periods aren’t exactly sunshine and rainbows. They create added expenses for women, public embarrassment, days away from school, and risk of infections. Yet the government still isn’t providing women with the resources necessary to prevent these issues.

At this point you’re probably thinking, what can we do to create change? Educate, and show young girls that their education and needs matter. Volunteer with companies like “Free the Tampon”, to speak out against these issues. When donating supplies to homeless shelters, make sure to include feminine hygiene products. Finally, sign petitions and support laws which aim to provide girls with the products they need for free. Actions like these can help better the lives of woman all over the world, and if all us girls band together, we can make a difference.

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