Period products aren’t a luxury — let’s stop treating them as such

May is Menstrual Awareness Month, a time to break the stigma and promote understanding about menstruation. It’s a natural process that women experience, and a part of the miraculous biological process that creates life. Even though this process is completely natural and can result in something beautiful, menstruation is often shrouded in secrecy and referred to as something dirty that women must endure, forcing women to speak about it behind closed doors or in whispered voices.

This attitude towards a completely natural biological process has contributed to a huge problem for women and girls when it comes to managing their monthly periods – period poverty. Women who can’t afford expensive period products often will miss important life events and even be left unable to attend school or work, creating a vicious cycle of poverty that becomes impossible to escape.

Women who experience period poverty are often forced to use unhygienic items that can cause urinary tract and bacterial infections, such as old t-shirts, socks, and even newspaper. It’s not hard to imagine that this often increases incidents of depression and anxiety, leaving women feeling trapped by their own bodies.

As elected officials, it’s our duty to look within the communities we serve, listen to their needs and do what we can to advocate for them. This isn’t an issue that constituents brought to my attention, this is something I dealt with as a young girl who started her period after a school assembly where there were no period products for me to use.

A girl’s first period should not cause fear or anxiety due to not having the necessary education or even supplies to adequately handle nature’s surprise.

Lynette Medley, a uterine health expert, who has studied the devastating effects of period poverty extensively, founded No More Secrets, Mind Body Sprit Inc., in Germantown.

The organization’s mission to provide a safe space to educate women about menstrual health, provide period products and spread awareness about period poverty was instrumental to my efforts to address this problem legislatively and be a fierce advocate for menstrual equity in Pennsylvania.

Period products are essential for women but are still subject to sales tax, excluding them from assistance programs such as SNAP and WIC.

This disproportionately affects the Black and Latinx communities, nearly a quarter of women who identify as such live in period poverty, sometimes causing them to have to choose between buying food and preserving their dignity.

I was proud to work with Lynette to write House Bill 850, which would allow for women who participate in the SNAP or WIC programs to avoid the undue burden of costs associated with period products by allowing them to be purchased using these programs. It passed the House of Representatives last summer and currently is waiting to be voted on in the Senate Health Committee.

Menstrual equity is not just about access to period products but encompasses the broader aspects of education, healthcare and societal attitudes towards menstruation. It is an issue of dignity, health and economic justice that affects half the population, yet it remains shrouded in stigma and silence.

We can break that stigma by having conversations about menstrual health and equity, the mere act of providing period products at school could be a catalyst to start speaking openly about periods. That’s why as part of the menstrual equity legislative package, I partnered with Chairwoman Carol Hill-Evans to write House Bill 851, to establish a grant program that would allow schools to purchase period products for distribution to their students.

House Bill 851 was voted out of the House Education Committee recently and I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of the General Assembly to consider this legislation, bring it up for a vote and send it to Gov. Shapiro to become law. Pennsylvania women and girls deserve to live their lives with dignity and free of embarrassment, and we have the power to make that happen.

Let’s get it done.