Cardboard box, containing boxes and packages of pads and tampons, sitting on pink bench

      Red Box Project donation box (Photo – Mvolz)

      Half of the people on this planet experience the burden of menstrual cycles every month for decades of their life. Yet, the government treats period products as luxuries rather than necessities. It indicates the systemic sexism ingrained in the foundation of the United States.

      By Lauren Kwong

      Why care about period poverty in homelessness?

      Imagine you are in the bathroom and suddenly everything is red, blood red. Your period came. It is too embarrassing to walk outside because everyone will see a stain on your bottoms. If you are at school, silent stares from classmates might cause you embarrassment and angst. If you are at the grocery store, people might give you a side-eye. Now imagine this happens approximately every month of your entire life because you do not have the funds to purchase period products.

      When I was 13 years old on a vacation with my family in Seattle, I had my first period. I wasn’t surprised since all my friends already had theirs, but I was extremely upset that my underwear was soaked in blood. I yelled at my mother that I had my first period, and she serenely said, “Calm down. You need a pad.” That’s when everything clicked. My mom did not realize the lesson she taught me, but she made me realize that women need pads or tampons for their periods. Three months later, I ran out of pads. My mom told me not to freak out and use tissues until we could go to the drug store within the next hour. I was bleeding and had nothing. At the drugstore, the woman next to me picked up a box of tampons and put it down after she saw the price. That’s when it occurred to me that period products are expensive necessities that not everyone could afford.

      Many menstruators roll up toilet paper as a temporary solution to absorb their menstrual blood. However, this is often not just a temporary solution for many. Those experiencing homelessness often turn on their survival mode and use cardboard and scraps of filthy cloth, amongst other unhygienic ways in which menstruators resort to because of period poverty. The access to menstrual products is a human right, not a luxury.

      The facts

      Currently, there are 500 million people across the globe that cannot afford period products or medical care for menstrual health. In 2020, an estimated 16.9 million menstruators were experiencing period poverty in the United States. In Los Angeles, there is a demand for period products due to the inaccessibility that affects many homeless communities. The Los Angeles Food Bank alone distributed 3.3 million products in one year to Los Angeles residents in need of menstrual products.

      Legislators in California have bills that focus on period poverty in public school, which is a step in the right direction. Yet, this ignores the basic needs for homeless people, the most underserved group in period poverty.

      If people who are homeless cannot even afford a home, food, or medical care, how is it possible to fit period products into the budget—something extra that males do not have to think about? According to an article published by Vice, homeless people have free bleeding, which is unhygienic and might cause infections. Moreover, Nadya Okamoto, founder of Period.org, says that menstruators would use anything they could get their hands to absorb blood from cardboard to socks.

      What can you do?

      Contacting local legislators, representatives, or grassroots organizations to fight for menstrual equality will show the demand for change surrounding female health and wellbeing. Currently, 21 states have a version of a period tax on all menstrual products, counting them as luxuries and not necessities.

      Donating pads, tampons, and other menstrual products to nonprofits in your area can help the homeless and those in need of products.

      Lastly, and most importantly, talking is the best solution to ending period poverty. Periods should be normalized and destigmatized. The less stigma and taboo there is on menstruation, the greater the accessibility menstruation has in conversations. Letting people understand that period poverty is an issue, identifies a serious problem that needs to be solved.

      Ultimately, period poverty needs to end. Millions of menstruators across the globe are uncertain of what supplies they are going to use for their next period. I am extremely privileged to be able to know what adequate products I will be using for my next period. We take for granted what is easily available in the store and vending machines with money. Menstruation should not affect a person’s reason to miss school. Menstruation should not affect a person’s reason to leave work. Menstruation cannot affect a person from being a human. The conversation starts now—period.

      Lauren Kwong is a high school senior at Westridge School. In her free time, she enjoys archery, baking, watching rom-coms, and spending time with her sister.


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