Opinion | We need to address period poverty

Ava Fisher, Opinions Editor

On Oct. 19, 2019, activists gathered together to celebrate the first National Period Day. The event, held in all 50 states and four countries, united people with one common goal: eradicate period poverty. 

National Period Day was created by the nonprofit PERIOD to raise awareness for the continued prevalence of period poverty in the U.S. and beyond. Period poverty refers to inadequate access to menstrual products, a phenomenon affecting 500 million people around the world. Without adequate menstrual health, people who experience period poverty must frequently forgo work, school and other aspects of daily life.

PERIOD, alongside many other activist groups, is working to put an end to period poverty in our lifetimes. Originally founded by high school students, PERIOD connects youth activists around the world to end the stigma around periods through the distribution of menstrual products and promotion of menstrual health education.

The idea to create a National Period Day was originally inspired by the existence of harmful legislation across the U.S. In 2019, 34 states taxed menstrual products as nonessential goods. In many states, items that are deemed essential have a tax-exempt status. Such items include most hygiene products, including toilet paper and even candy in some states, yet menstrual products are notably excluded. According to the tax codes of states across the nation, these products are “luxuries.” 

On the first National Period Day, activists held 60 rallies to demand change and recognize menstrual health as a fundamental right. While there has been promising legislation since then, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Two years later, efforts like these are still necessary. Despite common thought, period poverty isn’t limited to the past. It remains pervasive throughout the world and in our own communities. As college students, this issue must concern us and compel us to action. 

Today, 1 out of 10 college students experiences period poverty.

Without access to menstrual products or adequate health, period poverty has a real effect on students’ ability to succeed in school and maintain their health. According to a survey commissioned by PERIOD, 4 in 5 students reported missing class due to lack of period products, physical symptoms and the stigma surrounding periods. 

In addition to this alarming statistic, period poverty affects students’ mental health. These students, having to juggle their academics along with their own health, exhibit higher rates of depression than their peers. 

Period poverty has worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of nationwide supply shortages and shutdowns of facilities that disperse free menstrual products, universal access to menstrual health is even further from realization. 

States around the country are recognizing the need to end period poverty for students. On Oct. 10, California passed legislation requiring all public schools and colleges to provide free menstrual products. As Alabamians, we must follow their example.

As an institution that values progress and awareness, we, as a university, must direct our attention to this issue. Since we place such a high value on education, this education must be utilized toward eradicating period poverty in our time. 

The University is already beginning to make great strides toward this outcome. In September, the Student Government Association passed a resolution calling for free hygiene products on campus.

The resolution, sponsored by over 15 senators, calls for the formation of a task force dedicated to exploring how this initiative may be effectively implemented. While the resolution will initially apply only to women’s restrooms in the UA Student Center, it is encouraging that the SGA is exploring how the resolution may be extended.

This move by the SGA is essential for raising awareness of period poverty on campus. Period poverty is only exacerbated by the stigma that surrounds menstrual health. Through this resolution, our university may begin to crush this stigma.

Abrielle Brown, a junior in the University’s New College, is an activist who conducts research on the effects of period poverty. Brown is encouraged by the introduction of this resolution. 

“I think period poverty is an issue that is long overdue in addressing,” Brown said. “It impacts people all around the world, in developing and developed countries. Period poverty is estimated to impact 500 million people worldwide. And it impacts people on our campus. It breaks my heart that my classmates go through this. I think Alabama working towards providing menstrual hygiene products in the bathrooms is definitely a step in the right direction and hopefully will be an inspiration to other organizations and universities to consider this basic human right as well.”

Olivia Bruno, a junior majoring in biology, sees the resolution as a logical extension of university resources. 

“Living on campus for two years, I often see residence halls handing out free condoms and other products. It seems necessary that if the University is valuing this aspect of health, that they would also value menstrual health. The University is sometimes the only place that people have access to these products. What if someone doesn’t have the time or resources to get menstrual products? Having menstrual products on campus will definitely increase their accessibility.” 

While the SGA resolution is an encouraging step in the fight to end period poverty, students must ensure that our activism on campus doesn’t end there. There is still work to be done to ensure that the resolution becomes a reality. The SGA forwarded the resolution to President Stuart Bell, VP for Student Life Myron Pope, VP and Provost James Dalton, and VP for Student Health and Well-Being Ruperto Perez. Students can show their support by contacting administrators and having conversations on its feasibility.

Students can also support the fight against period poverty by spreading awareness in both classrooms and on social media platforms. Period poverty thrives in a culture that stigmatizes menstrual health. As students, we must translate our education into action. We must be willing to experience any amount of discomfort to support a global movement of radical change. Every time we speak up and stress the value of universal menstrual health, we are one step closer to seeing it as a reality. 

Editor’s Note: The CW is aware of PERIOD’s history of anti-Blackness in the menstrual space. While their contributions to menstrual equity are substantial, the harm they caused can’t be ignored. The CW does not endorse PERIOD and encourages readers to view Black-led organizations like Code Red  for further resources.

Questions? Email the Opinions desk at letters@cw.ua.edu.