OP/ED:The US Could Provide Free Sanitary Products for All. But It Won’t.

If you’ve read any of our other articles, you already know how real period poverty is and yet how under-served the population suffering with it is. Recently, New Zealand just took a huge step in the direction to end period poverty by pledging to cover the cost of sanitary products in schools. The Guardian reports,


“Girls in New Zealand high schools will no longer have to pay for sanitary products after the government announced it would foot the bill in an attempt to stamp out widespread period poverty. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern said sanitary supplies for a monthly period were not a luxury, but a necessity and too many girls were skipping school because they weren’t able to afford pads and tampons.” (Roy, The Guardian)


As with all international political decisions, it begs the question: Should other countries follow suit? Will they? And if so, how would the United States approach this decision? 

The ethical answer is YES. For too long periods and their accompanying products have been considered a “luxury”, and have been taxed as such. (Check out this TedTalk to learn more) However, the dictionary definition of luxury is quite literally “the state of great comfort and extravagant living”. At risk of sounding like I’m insulting your intelligence, I’ll still ask the question--DOES THAT SOUND LIKE A PERIOD TO YOU?? Yeah, nope. Didn’t think so. 

In addition, luxury in and of itself, signifies an option.  The majority of people are not given the luxury (hah) to be able to choose when their period starts and stops. It just happens. In the same way that toilet paper is provided free of cost in schools and other public places, why could we not provide basic hygiene supplies?

Because the number of young women skipping school due to their period is high, with one study conducted by Harris Insights & Analytics of 1,000 teens ages 13 to 19 found 20% — one in five —  of teenage girls surveyed can’t afford to purchase menstrual hygiene products, with 25% missing class because they didn’t have access to tampons or pads. An investment in period products is essentially an investment in education. 

Okay, okay, so it’s morally right. It will help our educational system by keeping more girls in school, and it will provide for the basic needs of those who simply cannot afford it. But how much will it cost? How will it affect the 33.78 Billion dollar period industry? And do we think the United States would ever actually do it?

How Much It Will Cost

To find out the estimated cost, we can look towards Scotland. Scotland is currently focusing on passing a Period Products Bill, making Scotland the first country in the world to provide period products for ALL women for free. 

This bill is estimated to cost around £9.7 million a year to the government, with some experts saying that the annual bill to the taxpayer would be substantially higher at around £24 million. Scotland is estimated to have about 2.5 million income tax payers which means that with a very basic understanding of taxation and assumptions, assuming the highest bill cost and no additional moving around of funds, it would cost income taxpayers an additional £9.60 a year. 

£9.60 a year. 

To provide period products to everyone who needs them. To remind you, £9.60 is generally what an individual can pay for period products for a single month for a single person. (I know I’ve certainly paid more.)

Okay, okay, so it won’t be that expensive for the taxpayer, especially if we simply focus on providing free sanitary products in schools and in areas where socioeconomic disadvantage is felt (at least to start) which greatly decreases the cost.

But this is America! We pride ourselves in the free market, capitalism reigns supreme and we value individualism. What about the companies who worked so hard to create their period brands? What happens to them? How about choice? Would people steal them from schools just because they were free? 

First of all, there are many free resources that are provided by the Government that are also available in other channels and with many options in the market. Toilet paper, food, condoms (condoms!), soap, and so many more.  Offering some of these commodities for free has not ruined the market for them, if anything they’ve opened new markets and new opportunities for those who sell them. (Toilet paper is a 31 billion dollar industry and growing. Especially now.)

Ultimately, progress cannot happen when you are stuck in old systems. Innovation happens when you push for a new market even if it leaves the old one in the dust. That’s kind of the point. In addition many of the large period product companies are subsidiaries of huge companies (ie Procter and Gamble who owns Always, Tampax, Whisper, and This is L. to name a few) who have both the capital and ability to diversify and adjust to fit the new market needs. 

Why America Won’t Do It

The sad truth is that America won’t do it. At least not the American Government.

They won’t. It’s a combination of more money, big businesses breathing down their necks, the racial inequality in the government that correlates with certain socioeconomic groups, and the general individualism that America has cultivated.

So what can we do about it?

If you own a business you can start providing free sanitary products for those who work at your company or for your customers. We see so many startups concerned with snack boxes and ping pong tables but never thought about throwing some free tampons in the bathroom. (This also relates to gender disparity in the startup world, but that’s for another article.) Businesses, especially those who can certainly afford it--do better. 

Private schools and universities  could begin to offer free menstrual products in their schools and provide those opportunities for their students. You could reach out to your university and start pressing for these opportunities, through a health center or otherwise. 

We can talk about period poverty and encourage a dialogue that has frankly been going too slowly. We can begin to educate others on the painful dangers of period poverty in our schools, on our streets and in our jails. 

Vote for those who would support the appropriate bill when the time comes. Research candidates appropriately and don’t be afraid to ask them the questions about these issues. 

We can band together to end period poverty, and make sure that girls near us never have to miss school again due to lack of products. 

Have other suggestions? Is there a great petition out there that we should know about? A company doing great things? Put them in the comments below and we’re more than happy to add them to our article!

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