Dr. Lauren Tailor BSc., PharmD., MPH Epidemiology Candidate
In November 2020, Scotland became the first country in the world to make menstrual products free for anyone who needs them through the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill. This is a monumental step towards ending period poverty and a bill that other nations, including Canada, should consider enacting.
What is period poverty?
As defined by Global Citizen, “period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand washing facilities, and/or, waste management.” While over 800 million people menstruate daily worldwide, only 27% of these individuals have adequate hand-washing facilities at home. In some countries, such as Nepal, menstruation is stigmatized, with women occasionally banned from their homes and forced to live in isolated huts, which can lead to death due to cold exposure, smoke inhalation, or attacks.
Stigma surrounding menstruation remains even in Canada, with menstrual hygiene products considered “non-essential or luxury items” up until 2015 when the tampon tax was removed. Unfortunately, period poverty continues to exist in Canada despite the removal of the this tax, with a third of Canadian women under age 25 struggling to afford menstrual products. In fact, Canadians who menstruate spend an estimated $6000 in their lifetime on menstrual products, with women in rural communities paying up to double the price.
Why is period poverty a problem?
The cost of menstrual products places a large burden on those who menstruate, especially those who are homeless, marginalized, or of lower socioeconomic status. However it’s important to recognize that problems associated with period poverty are not only due to the costs of menstrual products.2-7 Period poverty also includes a lack of menstrual hygiene education and sanitary product access, which are associated with health complications, inequitable opportunities, early pregnancies and pregnancy complications.
Period poverty can lead to poor menstrual hygiene, as individuals may use the same pad/tampon/napkin (or other household item such as socks or paper) for extended periods, resulting in infections and fatal health risks such as toxic shock syndrome.
According to a 2018 Canadian report, 68% of Canadian women (and 83% of Canadian women under 25) felt their period prevented them from full participation in any activity. In addition, more than half of Canadian women have missed work, school, and/or social activities because of their period, thus affecting their education, mental health, and career.
What should be done?
Menstrual cycles are not a choice, but a biological phenomenon necessary for the existence of human life. Those who menstruate do not choose to spend 3-7+ days of the month bleeding and should not be charged for it. As such, the Canadian government should pass a bill for the provision of free menstrual products in public bathrooms, work places, educational institutions, and health offices. As noted by Nancy Kramer, leader of the Free the Tampons campaign, “tampons and pads should be treated just like toilet paper. They serve the same purpose - items to tend to our every day, normal bodily functions. If men got their periods, we would not be having the conversation”.