Period Poverty Through a Policy Lens

Although a natural biological process, the topic of menstruation is complex in nature due to the associated social and economic barriers. Some nations have lifted the “pink tax” which treats menstrual products as luxury and taxable items. However, some continue to raise the cost of these essential products.

New Zealand - Free Sanitary Products in Washrooms

Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, recently announced that all schools will offer free period products for its students. Principals and poverty groups all across the country have been fighting for this change, as period poverty and a lack of affordability have resulted in approximately 1 in 12 girls skipping school during their menstrual cycles.

“Young people should not miss out on their education because of something that is a normal part of life for half the population,” says Ardern.

Providing these products not only helps bolster school attendance and directly address period poverty, but also improves students’ overall well-being. Furthermore, Otago University found girls who experience period poverty face lifelong implications “for their health, emotional development, education and career prospects.” Thankfully, New Zealand is not the only nation making long-lasting change. In 2018, Scotland was the first country to dedicate 9.2 million euros to offer free sanitary products at high schools, colleges, and universities. In early 2019, the British and Welsh governments followed suit.

The United States - The Rise of the Pink Tax

One of the biggest barriers for those who menstruate in the United States remains the sales tax that is not exempted for menstrual products. In the US, sales tax on tampons varies based on state. Today, 30 states still have a “tampon tax,” making period products more unaffordable, especially for the 1 in 5 low-income women who are already struggling to make ends meet. This tax can be upwards of 7% in some states, equating to approximately $100-$225 in a menstrautor’s lifetime. By taxing menstrual products, the government is generating around $150 million in annual revenue. Back in 2016, New York eliminated the sales tax on menstrual products. Since then, states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania have followed suit to help tackle menstrual inequity. 

Looking globally, Great Britain is the latest country to abolish the tampon tax. The tax stirred up controversy because it meant period products were classified as ‘luxury items’ – a notion that has been branded as sexist by many people. Many other countries have also eliminated the tampon tax, including Australia, Canada, and India.

Canada - The Consequences of Geographical Variation  

In Canada, the average menstruator spends $6000 on period products in their lifetime. This fact alone illustrates how important it is to study period poverty and create conversations surrounding the lack of affordability/resources some face. Alarmingly, people in rural communities in northern Canada can pay up to double the price that people pay for the same essential items in urban areas like Toronto. For example, a box of tampons or pads in Nunavut costs upwards of $15 to $18 per box. In Metropolitan Vancouver, the same items cost only $3 to $11 and can be less expensive if purchased in bulk. Although Canada eliminated the tax on menstrual hygiene products in 2015, the high cost of menstrual products still causes these essential items to be inaccessible for homeless, low-income, and marginalized women. There have been inquiries by the Canadian government to provide free menstrual products in the workplace; however, no changes have been implemented to date. Recently, the provincial government enacted a policy for menstrual products to be made available in British Columbia schools (free of cost). According to the policy, menstrual products must be made available in school washrooms to students of all gender identities and expressions using delivery methods that are free of charge, protect privacy, are barrier free and easily accessible, are consistent in delivery and availability, and are non-stigmatizing

At times, period poverty can leave individuals with only a handful of pads or tampons to use throughout a cycle. This can give rise to serious health problems, like Toxic Shock Syndrome or various urinary tract and fungal infections. In severe cases, infertility can even be a result. Next time you purchase a box of menstrual products, think about those who lack accessibility to these essential products.

Both nationally and globally, we must consider all these implications when implementing policies that have the potential to change lives.