Friday marks International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is “Balance for Better,” a commitment to build a more gender-balanced world.
Sadly, though, for women across the globe and here at home, balance takes a back seat to the most basic of needs. That’s because far too many individuals don’t have the means to afford period supplies, especially here in the St. Louis region.
According to a study by St. Louis University, nearly two-thirds of low-income women in St. Louis could not afford menstrual hygiene products over the course of the last year. The study also found that of those women, 21 percent lacked period supplies on a monthly basis and 46 percent struggled to afford both menstrual hygiene products and food.
Think about that for a minute.
Access to period supplies “is not a luxury; it’s a need. It affects a woman’s sense of self, her sense of dignity and her ability to participate in life,” said Anne Sebert Kuhlmann, an associate professor in the College for Public Health and Social Justice at St. Louis University, who oversaw the study.
Period poverty, the lack of access to an adequate supply of menstrual products like pads or tampons, is an indignity experienced by thousands of individuals in our region on a regular basis. Whether anticipating their first period or anxiously awaiting the onset of menopause, more than one in 10 low-income women in St. Louis report facing this problem every single month.
In the absence of the period supplies they need, many are forced to resort to alternatives such as socks, rags or even the diapers they need for their children.
The SLU study found that lack of access to menstrual hygiene products meant that 36 percent of women over 18 who reported being employed part or full time had missed one or more days of work per month due to their periods. For those under 18, period poverty likely means missed school days. People with periods are effectively being shut out of opportunity simply because they cannot access the most basic of supplies.
The women surveyed by SLU reported that a key challenge in accessing period products stems from the products’ high cost and their inability to apply government benefits toward their purchase. Funds from Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also referred to as food stamps) can’t be used to buy period products. In Missouri and other states, the supplies are taxed in the same tax bracket as nonessential items, even though the supplies are necessities for anyone with a period, adding quickly to the “economic cost of being a woman.”
This is not healthy, it is not equitable and it is simply not right.
That’s the problem that we’re aiming to solve. We recently launched the St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies, an initiative of the St. Louis Diaper Bank.
The St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies has four main goals:
• Raise awareness of the thousands of individuals living in poverty in our region who miss out on daily life because they lack access to period supplies.
• Support the development and expansion of a regional period supply initiative capable of providing a reliable supply of period products to individuals in need.
• Distribute period supplies to individuals through a network of community partners.
• Advocate for legislative changes to make period supplies more accessible and affordable, regardless of income.
These four focus areas work in tandem to end period poverty.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day and its call for gender balance, all of us need to recognize that this goal can never truly be met if over half our people do not have access to the most basic of needs.
Jessica Adams is founder and executive director of the St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies. For more information about the St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies, visit https://www.stlaps.org