U.S. women push back against stigma, cost of menstruation

Thu Mar 10, 2016 9:07am EST
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By Barbara Goldberg

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. (Reuters) - Sixteen-year-old Emma Joy and her younger sister Quinn recently spent an evening stuffing bags with a full year's supply of tampons or sanitary pads for women who often miss work or school because they cannot afford menstrual products.

The South Orange, New Jersey, residents got the idea for their charity, Girls Helping Girls Period, when Emma learned that federal assistance programs for the indigent do not cover menstruation products, leaving many low-income and homeless women to cope with their cycles on their own.

"We found out a lot of people don't know that," Emma said. "That's the point: to educate the public and to eliminate this issue of being afraid to talk about it. It shouldn't be a thing we hide."

The project, Girlshelpinggirlsperiod.org, is part of a growing national movement to address the inequities that have sprung up as a result of the stigma that still surrounds menstruation.

Some prisons, for example, force female inmates to buy pads at the commissary, and public restrooms rarely provide them free of charge for emergencies.

New York and 39 other states impose sales taxes on tampons and sanitary napkins, while exempting the Rogaine hair regrowth treatment, condoms and other products mostly used by men. Advocates have sued in New York, citing a double standard.

Women's advocates say budgets for homeless shelters, schools, prisons and public restrooms should provide free tampons and sanitary napkins, just as they do for soap, toilet paper and other essentials.

In a country where erectile dysfunction ads fill television commercial slots and jokes about flatulence and bowel movements have inspired entire books, the bodily function of menstruation endures as a taboo subject.   Continued...

Emma Joy (L), 16, and her sister Quinn, 12, pack feminine products for delivery at their home in South Orange, New Jersey March 6, 2016.  REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton