I read an article posted in a Facebook group recently and felt compelled to do a little research on the subject. As you may have figured out from the title, the topic was feminine hygiene products. Even though the last time I bought a box of tampons was 2003, I myself took for granted how easy it is to just go to a store, spend a few dollars, and walk out with a box of pads or tampons if someone I know needed them. Anyone can walk in a store and buy them, can they not? The answer is no. For women who are incarcerated, homeless, or impoverished or in a mental facility, these items may not be available at all. Now imagine being a woman and not have access to feminine hygiene products each month. What you are imagining is a reality for too many women in this country and it should not be.
Feminine Hygiene Products during Incarceration
In Europe, access to feminine hygiene products is a basic human right but this is not the case in the United States. In 2017, legislation was passed to provide free menstrual products to women in prison. That is fine but the problem is, most prisons do not provide these products or charge for them and the rules are not being enforced. Another problem is women only account for five percent of Federal prisoners; the other 95 percent are in state and local jails where the legislation does not even apply. These women may or not have any access to feminine hygiene products at all or only a limited number, at a cost, depending on the number of female prisoners on any given day.
Only four states and New York City have legislation that provides feminine hygiene products to women a no charge. For women in the other 46 states, access to these products varies from being limited to being available at a cost to being given out at the discretion of prison guards. Local jails obviously have their own issues, and in most cases is probably having no products available at all.
The health risks for women without access to proper feminine hygiene products can be deadly. If women are forced to improvise by using toilet paper for other items for tampons or items other than toilet paper to wipe themselves can lead to irritated tissues that can open up to bacterial infections. Women without access to proper products are also susceptible to potentially lethal problems such as sepsis and toxic shock.
Feminine Hygiene amongst the Homeless and Poor
Periods can be uncomfortable enough, but for homeless women and poor women who do not have access to menstrual products, that time of the month is even worse. Imagine having to use a washcloth, sock or used pad instead of having clean, proper feminine hygiene items. While the average cost for sanitary products is $7 per month, there are those that must use the $7 to feed their family, not buy pads, or tampons. When poor or homeless teenage girls do not have these items, they may not be able to go to school for a week, which can lead to a continuation of the cycle of poverty. Women may have to miss work, which puts a further strain on their economic situation.
Most homeless shelters have limited budgets and in most cases, feminine hygiene products are just a small part, if any, of this budget. If a homeless shelter is lucky enough, they receive donations of these products from businesses or individuals who understand how important these items are. Recently, I contacted a local women’s shelter to ask if I could do a feminine product drive for them and they actually asked if I could wait a few months because they actually did not have enough room for more. It would be nice if every homeless shelter had this problem.
Feminine Hygiene in Mental Health Facilities
While many mental health units are in or attached to hospitals, that does not mean they have access to feminine products like those that the hospital itself does. Most are closed units that have their own allocation of supplies and menstrual products never seem to be high on the list. I remember many women asking for products and being told it was all they were allowed. They also complained about the quality of the products, as more were needed than better ones. If you are lucky enough to be in a private hospital, this usually is not the case. The Mighty author Juliette Virzi even listed feminine products as one of 13 Gift Ideas for a Friend Who’s in the Psychiatric Hospital in October of 2017.
After reading the article and doing some research, this is a much bigger issue than people would think. Feminine hygiene is one of those things you do not think about unless you need of these products, or find women are mistreated when it comes to them. The responses from some men to women not receiving free products in prison were appalling. Sorry, but men control their bodily fluids. They do not look like they are dying with blood everywhere. (Well let us hope not.) Maybe this is why some men have no concept what it is like to be sick, miserable, and bleeding everywhere for days. This withholding of feminine products just demeans women, even more, leaving them at the mercy of others and unfortunately many without any mercy to give.