Letter to the editor: Period poverty — A call to action

Courtesy of Samantha Holtz with PERIOD MN.

Courtesy of Samantha Holtz with PERIOD MN.

Letter to the Editor

Even in a presidential election cycle with a historic number of highly qualified women candidates, a problem that continues to go unaddressed by any major candidate for president is the ongoing period poverty crisis in America. As president of PERIOD.MN, one of over 350 chapters of PERIOD, a youth-led nonprofit group focused on championing menstrual equity, let me explain why candidates need to speak out and directly address access to menstrual products.

Access to menstrual hygiene products is restricted because of sexist and discriminatory perspectives that translate into willful ignorance and harmful policies. The bias that has me and my fellow PERIOD activists fighting for the state of Minnesota to supply free menstrual products in middle and high school women’s and gender neutral restrooms is the same reason 35 states still classify period products — like tampons, sanitary napkins and menstrual cups — as luxury items. (Toilet paper isn’t a luxury item. Why are tampons?) Periods are natural biological function that about half of the world’s population experiences during their lifetime. Does a nineteen-year-old really have to give a lesson in basic biology to our lawmakers?!

Period poverty, or the lack of access to menstrual products, increases the risk of toxic shock syndrome, cervical cancer and other dangerous infections as a result. I was not able to cite government data because I couldn’t find any — since issues affecting girls, women, trans and nonbinary individuals have been almost entirely ignored by research to this day. There is anecdotal data to indicate nearly one in five American girls have either left school early or missed school entirely because they did not have access to period products.

No one should be held back by their body’s naturally occurring processes. Everyone should be empowered to reach their full potential — to be seen and supported. We, as the PERIOD chapter at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, have launched a campaign asking our state legislators to address the issue. PERIOD at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities has partnered with the National Council of Jewish Women Minnesota to take action to ensure that all students in the state of Minnesota are provided free and easy access to period products. We are demanding that all women and gender-neutral public middle and high school restrooms in the state of Minnesota must be consistently stocked with both pads and tampons at no cost to students. Join our efforts by signing our petition. No one should have to miss out on an education because of their period.

Period poverty is a serious but solvable problem resulting from gender bias. I need to hear from each 2020 presidential candidate how they will design policy that appreciates and accommodates everyone’s basic needs.

Written by Samantha Holtz, president of PERIOD.MN.

This letter to the editor has been lightly edited for clarity and style.