Scotland announced it will offer free period products to its population, and like a true idealist, I’m wondering when other countries will do the same. Since the United States struggles to distribute basic human needs like clean water, food, and health care to people who are struggling, I’m not holding my breath for us. But period poverty is a reality that many folks have to deal with each month, and that is on top of the stigma of bleeding in the first place.
Everyone should have access to what they need, and that includes sanitary products. It’s one thing to be stuck for a minute without a tampon or pad if you’re caught off guard, but it’s another nightmare to have to go a whole cycle without something to contain the flow of menstruation. That’s a reality for folks who can’t afford period products.
Before you get worked up about people getting something for free, before you become worried about big business losing money, before you spread your patriarchal bullshit—let me remind you that you probably get free shit all the time, whether you need it or not. Free Frisbee or t-shirt for filling out a survey? Two please! Free hot dog at the ballpark? Fuck yeah! Free lamp with a busted lampshade on the side of the road? It’s free, why not!?
We aren’t talking about people getting extra, or more than someone else. Just like people struggle to keep the heat on in their home, put food on the table, or pay their rent, some people can’t afford to buy sanitary products each month. There are programs set up to help folks make ends meet, and this is just another program to help folks live with fewer struggles. It’s not like tampons or pads or reusable cups are glamorous gifts to brag about; they are necessary for a person to be able to confidently and safely leave the house in order to work or go to school.
In case you were wondered about the logistics of an operation like this, here’s how Scotland is going to handle distributing period products: Schools and universities are now required to offer free period products in all bathrooms. (I hope they are offered in bathrooms of all genders because transgender men and nonbinary folks bleed too.) The Scottish government will make it mandatory for other publicly funded places to offer free period products. And if anyone needs period products for any reason, the government will make sure they can get them for free. The Period Products Bill was passed unanimously by Parliament, which means male members endorsed the bill too. The new law will cost the country 24 million pounds, which is about 32 million dollars.
Reproductive rights are often up for debate, specifically when lawmakers try to regulate a person’s uterus. Birth control, abortion, and menstruation are often viewed as women’s issues, but not all women have vaginas and typical female sex organs. Also, transgender men and nonbinary people need to be included in these conversations, because we are also impacted by what our bodies experience in terms of body parts that can achieve pregnancy or shed blood each month. The common theme in regulating reproductive rights, however, is that cisgender men are often the ones making the rules. It’s more than frustrating to be told what I can do with my body and what tools I should have access to by people who never experience the thing they are making decisions about. No uterus means no opinion that doesn’t support the needs of a uterus.
Having a uterus is more expensive than not. One study found that a woman will spend $6,360 on menstrual products during her reproductive lifetime, or about $13.25 per month between the ages of 12 and 52. This amount doesn’t factor in the cost of what the uterus does to our bodies. I have had cramps and headaches that have caused me to miss work and school. I have had hormonal mood swings that required medication to pull me out of depression and suicidal thoughts. I have had to throw away clothes and sheets because of blood stains. Some folks struggle with endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and endometrial and ovarian cancer. Not only are treatments painful, expensive, and time consuming, but they could impact a person’s fertility. The need for fertility intervention to achieve pregnancy isn’t cheap and is far from pleasant. And while not nearly as significant, the reality of period related cravings can add up too.
Folks aren’t asking for people to buy them new underwear, to cover the cost of a day’s loss of work, or for a stash of chocolate—though that would be nice—but people should have the right to free tampons so they can afford all of the other bullshit that comes with menstruation. Also, if this is strictly a women’s issue, then covering the cost of “women’s” products would help out with the whole women-getting-paid-less issue. Gender equality can’t happen without some equity, and if a bleeder can’t get to work or school because they don’t have the proper protection, then there is little room for fairness.
Free condoms and dental dams are easily accessed in clinics and doctor’s offices, and yet one could argue that a person doesn’t need those things. Just don’t have sex. Easy peasy. Oh? You think you should be able to have the sex whenever you want? Or maybe you think you should be able to protect yourself or others from STIs and pregnancy but can’t afford prophylactics. Bummer. Good thing there are plenty of places for you to find free rubbers and other forms of protection.
Short of removing my uterus—which isn’t usually something that would be covered by insurance unless medically necessary, and even then, good luck—I can’t control the shedding of my uterus each month and neither can half of the population. For the people who can afford to pay for period products, they likely will continue to do so. But for the others who are burdened every month by the cost of bleeding, the least a government can do is make sure they have what they need so they can get through the day without the stress of bleeding money too.