Many Lack Access to Pads and Tampons. What Are Lawmakers Doing About It?
She decided to contact I Support the Girls, a nonprofit organization that provides free tampons and pads, which she had read about online: “I had to reach out and say, ‘Hey we’re not going to make it,’” she said.
Ms. Cotton, like millions globally, was experiencing “period poverty” — a lack of access to pads or tampons, in this case for financial reasons. For some the financial gap is so dire, they may need to miss school or work while menstruating.
For decades, lawmakers all over the world were largely silent about the issue of period poverty. But as policymakers and advocates have begun to break the taboo, with female political leaders putting a spotlight on women’s health needs, countries around the globe are devising policies to make these products more accessible. In most instances this means helping to cut costs, but some are taking a bolder approach: Last November, Scotland became the first country to make period products free for all, meaning local authorities are mandated to ensure anyone who needs them can access them.
Replicating something akin to Scotland’s law in the United States would be difficult, period equity activists point out, because of the difference in population size; Scotland’s population is just half the size of New York City. But the United States, too, has begun enacting its own set of local and federal policies that help make period products more widely available.
In recent years, six states have mandated that menstrual products be provided in schools, and 13 states have mandated that they be provided in prisons and jails. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice agreed to provide every woman incarcerated in a federal prison with menstrual products free of charge. And in March, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act included provisions allowing menstrual products to be purchased with money from health savings and flexible spending accounts.