Sarah Jamil Writes

"Whatever you do, always give 100%. Unless you're donating blood." – Bill Murray

The Case of Period Poverty

People have to choose between period products, and food.

Original article on Drake Magazine.

Between climate change and the state of war, period poverty is a worldwide issue that often gets lost in the dust of media coverage. And yet, it’s probably the easiest problem we can pitch in to solve.

In a survey of over a thousand college females conducted by women’s intimate health brand INTIMA, nearly half, or 47.6 percent, of them have struggled with access to menstrual hygiene products. That means when you’re sitting in a classroom, the woman next to you could likely be struggling to afford period products.

Up to 500 million people across the globe experience period poverty, according to the World Bank. That is, the lack of access to menstrual care and education.

It’s a common occurrence.

The average person who menstruates uses over 10,000 products over the course of their lifetime. According to U.S. News & World Report, that adds up to about $9000. A result of both the COVID-19 pandemic, and the pink tax—gender-based pricing that causes women’s products to be more expensive.

“I was in Costco, and I was getting myself a pack of eighty pads to take home and it was 20 bucks,” Varsha Nallabirudu, the Iowa City leader for nonprofit Love For Red, said. “And I was like, ‘I feel like this is a lot.’ The toilet paper cost way less than that.”

Love For Red hosts period product drives and donations all throughout Iowa. In 2023, they attended a fair for the Waukee school district in West Des Moines.

“I was surprised at the amount of kids who, when we were giving out products for free, didn’t want anything to do with it,” Nallabirudu said. “As soon as they learned what it was, they were like, ‘oh my gosh, no no no, we’re not, what is this? I don’t want to talk about it…’ Their parents had to encourage them.”

So, what if your period hits while you’re in school? You’re not in a state like California which has legislative laws allowing free access to period products in their restrooms. So, you can only hope that a few sheets of toilet paper would suffice.

“People use old rugs, cardboard, toilet paper—and that’s not hygienic. It could cause a lot of infections like UTIs,” Nallabirudu said.

Tomorrow, you decide to skip school for the rest of the week because you can’t bear the possibility of people making fun of you. The school fails to provide a formal education to dispel the stigmatization of menstrual health.

It’s a trauma that sticks with you for the rest of your life. In a St. Louis University study, it was discovered that 36 percent of employed women missed work at least once a month during their periods. That’s a week of income, lost.

A shift towards advocacy.

Just two years ago, Love For Red was a small organization that functioned out of a basement. Today, they’ve donated 38,000 menstrual products, raised $11,000 in donations, and have helped over 25 places in need throughout Iowa.

The nonprofit took to the Capitol to push for a bill that would allow access to free menstrual products in Iowa this spring. Since 2021, several states–California and Maryland to name a couple–have enacted such laws for their female restrooms. 

“We always say in our organization that our goal is that we don’t exist,” Nallabirudu said. “That period poverty isn’t an issue; everyone has access to these products anytime. There’s never an issue where no one can’t afford it.”

But that’s a change that remains to be years in the making. For now, they’re looking to start small, on a school board level and then work their way through the state of Iowa, shifting the landscape of period poverty.

Here’s what you can do.

  • If you have the means to, giving away just one box of product can mean the world to another family.
  • Start looking into in-state organizations to donate to like Love For Red in Iowa or reach further with a national organization like PERIOD. I
  • f you are pressed for time, leave that extra box you’ve purchased in a communal bathroom, or public restroom on your college campus. 

According to the Alliance for Period Supplies, only 4% of Americans know where to look for free or reduced cost menstrual products. Organizations like PERIOD. and Love For Red host social media platforms where they educate people on menstrual hygiene and announce their events.

  • So, take a moment to pause from your daily dose of comedic Instagram reels, and share their cause on your platform.
  • Open the conversation between your friends, and not just among the female population—it takes an entire society to alleviate such a deep-rooted stigma against menstrual hygiene and health.

‘Cause only then will those experiencing period poverty feel unafraid to ask for help.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *