Speak Now: US lags behind in making menstrual products accessible

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Following the latest trends in other countries, such as New Zealand and Scotland, in providing free menstrual products, many people are wondering when the United States will soon do the same. Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on Pexels.com

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced last week that all schools in New Zealand would begin providing free menstrual products for students for at least three years. This is a significant step forward for the world in the effort to make menstrual products more accessible, and to eliminate the stigma associated with menstruation. 

Millions around the world do not have access to proper menstrual supplies, including pads and tampons. This is a very basic healthcare need that nations worldwide must make more accessible. Especially during the pandemic, it has been difficult for those in the U.S. to buy period products; therefore, dire steps are necessary. 

Scotland was the first country to take a significant step to combat this issue last November, when the Scottish Parliament voted to make period products free for anyone who needed them. Given the size of the U.S. population, activists have pointed out that making period products completely free would be difficult, especially without other measures coming beforehand. Regardless, actions must be taken at all levels and in different environments to make period products more accessible and, possibly, make them free everywhere. 

“Regardless, actions must be taken at all levels and in different environments to make period products more accessible and, possibly, make them free everywhere.”

With New Zealand’s new law, schools across the nation will provide menstrual products for free; however, in the U.S., only a few states currently do this, including California, Illinois, New York and New Hampshire. Thirty states across the U.S. also have a “tampon tax,” which taxes necessary menstrual products as a “luxury,” makes these products unaffordable for many. Menstrual products are taxed to the point that annually, states make approximately $150 million from these taxes. 

Connecticut does not have a tampon tax. However, schools are not required to provide free menstrual products; in fact, this was proposed in 2017, but it did not become law. School boards can voluntarily provide menstrual products, but they do not have to do so. 

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Women laying on the couch, as she battles menstrual induced cramps. The issue at the table is that women do not have the choice as to whether or not they have a period. Thirty states in the country have imposed a “tampon tax”, which taxes necessary menstrual products as “luxury”, making them unattainable for lower class individuals. Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com

Having a period is not a luxury, nor is it a choice. Menstrual products are basic, necessary healthcare products and should be treated as such. People who menstruate should not have to worry month after month about whether or not they will have the basic healthcare products they need to get them through the day. 

And this should extend past schools — period products should be made more accessible for everyone. Part of this fight is to combat the stigma surrounding periods. 

This stigma begins with the idea that menstruation should be considered a taboo subject. Many likely remember the day back in 5th grade when students were separated into different rooms to watch videos about their “changing bodies.” We were told to keep pads and tampons in small purses so  no one would see, and we were told to use euphemisms for the word “period” because it made people uncomfortable. What if this wasn’t the case? What if people were taught that it’s not a dirty process and that people should talk about it? 

“We were told to keep pads and tampons in small purses so  no one would see, and we were told to use euphemisms for the word “period” because it made people uncomfortable.”

If people who menstruate were taught from a young age that they could talk about menstruation, and they would not be ostracized for doing so, perhaps laws would have changed much earlier on. For years, lawmakers and those in governmental positions have not spoken about menstruation in general; therefore, it has been almost impossible for changes to occur. 

The U.S. isn’t exactly known for its accessible healthcare; the whole system must change drastically so proper healthcare becomes a human right, rather than a luxury. Changing the way the U.S. treats menstruation is one crucial step to doing this. 

Countries like the U.S. must follow in the footsteps of nations like New Zealand and Scotland, and also nations that have removed the tax on menstrual products, such as Canada, Australia, South Africa, India and the U.K. Menstruation is neither a choice nor a luxury and it should not be treated as such. 

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