The academic semester at the University of Michigan has officially come to a close which means it is time to reflect on the past five months, in addition to the past year. It seemed that every time I turned on the television or logged onto a social media platform, there was only bad news to be reported. This is not to say that there were not any positive moments in 2020, but it was challenging to see the silver lining among the intersecting issues the world encountered during this year. However, I want to end the start of this new decade on a positive note specifically for the international menstruating community: Scotland passed a bill in November 2020 to make all period products free and available for those who need them in public spaces (Lennon). This bill is a huge step forward in the constant battle for affordable and accessible menstrual products throughout the world. Based on Scotland’s history in championing these campaigns, it is no surprise they were the first to enact such legislation. In 2018, Scotland was also the first country to provide period products in all schools, colleges, and universities completely free of charge (Wamsley). Scotland’s leaders demonstrate a definitive understanding of the urgency behind period poverty campaigns. However, as with any legislation, there will be a significant financial cost attached to the bill, which is estimated to total about ￡8.7 million by 2022 (Picheta). This amount is subject to fluctuate depending on the success of the program, quantity of products bought, and overall distribution plan. ￡8.7 million is no small cost but Scotland is showing the rest of the world that they are not afraid to put their citizens’ needs ahead of financial barriers. Lawmakers heard the requests of their communities and diligently worked to respond. The investment Scotland is making in their menstruating population will significantly benefit people who experience period poverty by removing the expenses that pads and tampons bring about during each menstrual cycle. After reading a few articles about the landmark bill, I became very excited at the influence Scotland could have on other countries with the means to enact similar legislation, such as the United States.
In 2018, the average box of tampons in the United States cost $5.99 (Ridder). For the following proposed model, assume the person being analyzed began menstruating at the age of twelve, has consistent periods each month, and they buy the same box of tampons every month from the same store. They are now twenty-two years old and over the course of a decade, this person has spent a total of $718.80 just on tampons. Now imagine this rough estimate multiplied by the number of total menstruators in the United States and keep in mind that the math in this scenario only accounts for ten years of periods, whereas most people stop menstruating in their mid-forties as they approach menopause (Office of Women’s Health). The summation of this cost is tremendous and will most likely only increase as prices with the prices of goods.
Initiating a similar bill to Scotland’s in the United States would help reduce American period poverty and decrease the overall stigma of openly carrying period products to the bathroom. For decades periods have been made out to be a source of embarrassment and something that people should hide. Limited access and long-term costs of products only add to the shame many menstruators experience. If the United States government showed an initiative in procuring a bill to provide period products in public buildings and education institutions, American menstruators would feel more supported by their leaders instead of abandoned. Especially for people who already struggle to put food on the table and pay their bills, not having to worry about purchasing period products would relieve them of an expensive necessity.
Although Scotland does not have as large of a population as the United States, numbers should not be the sole argument against promoting and passing legislation for making period products accessible throughout the United States. The overall cost of this type of bill should not be viewed as a burden on the government or tax payers but as an investment. The rest of the developed world should follow the Scottish parliament’s example in making a federal effort to treat menstruation as a public health issue that can be improved with the correct allocation of resources and attention. Menstruators have long fought for their needs to be heard and with Scotland paving the way for how to bring about such change it is important that other countries follow in their footsteps to diminish period inequalities.
Hey everyone, TDO has a very exciting update about a project we worked on over the past couple of months! Throughout September and October, The Dot Org partnered with Organicup (https://www.organicup.com), a menstrual cup company based in Copenhagen, to give menstruators across the University of Michigan campus access to try menstrual cups as a part of the Campus Cup 2020 initiative. With the pandemic still raging, we were super excited at the opportunity to get involved on campus again. TDO strives to reduce the stigma of menstruation as well as increase accessibility to menstrual products and we felt this was a perfect way to do so. Since we could not hold informational meetings or post physical flyers around campus, we turned to social media as being our main communication outlet. Our Eboard diligently worked to reach as many different populations as possible through Facebook groups and Instagram reposts. Our amazing Social Media Director (shoutout to Jenna) made some beautiful graphics for us to post as well. In mid-September we spent an entire week promoting TDOxOrganiCup and people who were interested in receiving a menstrual cup could easily sign up to do so. After our promotional week finished and the cups arrived, TDO planned a safe, socially-distanced menstrual cup pickup at The Diag. It was so much fun to meet some new faces during our pick-up event and also spread the word about The Dot! After all of our efforts, TDO passed out 494 menstrual cups completely free of charge to those who signed up. According to Organicup’s research, these 494 students using their cups would result in 260.832 pads/tampons saved, and therefore, much less environmental waste (wow!). We received so much positive feedback from people who participated in TDOxOrganicup and we were beyond excited to hear their reviews. This collaboration could not have been a success without everyone spreading the word and participating, so I wanted to highlight a few of my favorite comments below:
“Thank you so much for doing this! The opportunity to get a free organicup really inspired me to finally make the switch from tampons to a menstrual cup. It’s cool to think about how many people will now be using a more sustainable, eco-friendly period product because of this!”
“Thank you so much! Was such a powerful and moving campaign.”
“I’m really thankful for this opportunity because I always held off on buying a menstrual cup because of price!”
Partnering with Organicup definitely helped give us at The Dot the little push we needed to creatively fulfill our mission in light of the isolating times we are all experiencing. This event added a some normality to our lives and even allowed us to safely leave our homes for a little bit and focus on TDO’s impact on campus. For pictures and details about TDOxOrganicup, check out our Instagram (@thedotorg), like us on Facebook (@TheDot), and stay tuned for more exciting projects to come!
Hey everyone! With election season well underway, and with just over a week to go until Election Day, I wanted to provide some helpful resources about the different ways your vote can impact American women. Being an informed voter is incredibly important, especially in this particular election with so many changes happening every day. If you have yet to cast your vote or just want more information about the possible outcomes of the election, check out the links below for some great resources about what a vote means in the 2020 election.
Higher Heights for America: https://higherheightsforamerica.nationbuilder.com/
This organization was created as a platform for Black women to better understand where they fit within U.S. politics and policies. Their website includes dedicated tabs for articles, reports about Black women’s involvement in American politics, and so much more. They cover a plethora of topics in their articles tab and I would highly recommend checking out this page for a holistic view of the voter's impact in this election. Higher Heights also offers webinars and other programs to help Black women expand their knowledge and involvement in various political spheres. This resource helped me the understand the Black woman's experience within American politics and I could not recommend this source enough for better understanding the female minority experience in the United States.
The Kaiser Family Foundation: https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/
The KFF website has an entire section of its online journal dedicated to women’s health policies. The article listed at the end of this paragraph specifically gives an in-depth breakdown of each candidate’s views of different topics related to women’s health. This article also includes easy-to-read tables of each candidate’s proposals and ideas to help navigate a confused voter through understanding both sides of the ballot. Other article topics listed on their headline page include those about insurance coverage, Medicaid, and women’s health profiles for each state. (https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/issue-brief/the-2020-presidential-election-implications-for-womens-health/)
This short piece by Forbes takes a deeper look into how female business owners are preparing for the election results and their predictions about how their businesses will be impacted. With the COVID-19 pandemic having put so many small businesses in jeopardy, it is important to consider how our future leader may, or may not, support these business owners in future times of need.
Medical News Today: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/what-will-the-us-election-mean-for-black-white-disparities-in-maternal-and-child-health#Hospital-level-reforms
Dr. Tiffany Green of Medical News Today published a great, detailed piece about the already significant disparities of maternal and child health between minority and white populations. She covers the Affordable Care Act, past and future hospital reforms, racial bias within the healthcare system, and accessibility to family planning resources. Whichever side you are planning on voting for, I would definitely be sure to read this article as it highlights some lesser-known issues within American healthcare.
The articles I have listed are only a small fraction of the total literature published about the 2020 election (and it does not stop at women’s health, there are so many other issues to consider). As a first-time voter myself, I would definitely encourage everyone who plans on casting their vote to thoroughly educate themselves before making their decision. Candidates, policies, and proposals can be confusing so make sure to properly learn about what you are voting for or against. The ability to vote is a privilege, especially when there are so many forms of democratic suppression throughout the world. Just a few minutes and some colored-in ballot circles can significantly impact your life and the lives of millions of other Americans.
The United States is in its most active consumer-based economy to date. With billions of items to choose from and the increasing popularity of e-commerce, it has never been easier to make a purchase with a single click. Theoretically, the freedom and ease of such an economy would favor almost everyone and decrease disparities between different types of consumer populations. However, nuanced aspects of the U.S. economy related to discrimination and outdated legislation continue to widen these aforementioned imbalances. Despite all of the progress made on gender equality and the destigmatization of menstruation, both of these factors are still used to justify the idea that the female-identifying population should be required to spend more money. Imagine a person goes to their local grocery store to buy a pint of ice cream. At this particular store, all of the pints come from the same company, are of the same flavor, and organized into two columns: one with dark blue packaging and the other neon pink and labeled as “for women.” These two ice cream pints are exactly the same besides their advertising, but listed at two different prices: the blue pint costs $4.29 while the pink pint is $4.99. Although there is only a $0.70 difference between the two pints, the manufacturer was able to choose these prices because the latter group has a target group it is marketed towards women. Now, imagine this price gap also being on general items such as vitamins, work-style clothes, deodorant, and even toys. The average consumer may not think they are overpaying during their weekly shopping trips when in fact, these seemingly minor price differences will quickly add up at their expense.
My analogy with blue and pink ice cream pints may be fictional, but gender-based price discrimination for the other goods I listed is certainly not. Commonly referred to as the Pink Tax, the collective trend of gender-based price discrimination has prevailed in the United States economy for decades (Hoffman) and is still around today (U.S. Government Accountability Office). The Pink Tax extends beyond items and applies to services such as dry cleaning and car maintenance (Hoffman). According to an article on the Listen Money Matters website, a study conducted by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs in 2015 found that after comparing the prices of over 800 basic products, women pay about $1300 more for the same items per year. To control for gender-specific goods and services, the products compared in this study were clothing, toys, personal care products, and senior home products (Elliot). Over the average woman’s lifetime, which is about 81 years according to the Center for Disease Control (Arias and Xu), she is projected to spend an extra $105,300 in goods and services. Arguably, a shopper could avoid the difference in costs if they purchased the generic, male-branded items versus the female. However, some products only apply to one gender, so there is not a cheaper alternative available to customers. If you guessed that I was hinting at pads, tampons, panty liners, and any item related to menstruation, you would be correct. The Tampon Tax is slightly different from the Pink Tax in that it is an actual tax added to the purchase of menstrual products, but it is similar in principle. In fact, states generate millions of dollars of revenue off of the Tampon Tax. As of 2020, 60% of states still had a Tampon Tax in place, and their revenue from this tax totaled to about $122.4 million (Period Equity). For such a modern economy and society, it is shocking that States are significantly profiting off of menstruators for a biological process they cannot control.
So, as either an affected consumer or an interested bystander in the Pink and Tampon taxes, where do you go from here? Unfortunately, there has not been much federal progress on abolishing either of these practices. On April 3rd, 2019 the Pink Tax Repeal Act was introduced in Congress, but the last recorded activity on the bill was on April 4th, 2019 where it was referred to a Congressional subcommittee. Therefore, the only way to defeat the Tampon and Pink Taxes is through individual work. The first, and arguably most important, step anyone can take is to educate themselves and those around them about the various organizations, philanthropists, lobbyists, and government figures working towards diminishing the Pink and Tampon taxes. A great resource I found upon doing my own research was https://www.periodequity.org/ which is the website for a legal organization called Period Equity. Founded by Jennifer Weiss-Wolf and Laura Strausfeld, Period Equity’s main mission is making menstrual products more affordable and accessible and spreading their message about “menstrual equity” (Period Equity). They have championed the movement against the Tampon Tax by collaborating with various legal teams and media outlets to push for legislative reform in multiple states and publishing stories and informational pieces about how the Tax impacts the United States. In addition to offering a plethora of Tampon Tax material, Period Equity’s website also includes links to donate, ways for interested individuals to get involved, and updated documents with information about their legislative efforts. If you do not have time to get super involved or just want to start with a simple change, I would recommend avoiding purchases from brands that gender-discriminate in their pricing and switch over to equally priced subscription services like Billie, Harry’s, and Boxed for razors and tampons. Additionally, as U.S. residents, we can lobby our local representatives to push for the legal change we want. If enough people make their concerns heard and we can grasp the attention of those in high legislative positions, we could potentially be one step closer to finally ending the Pink Tax and Tampon Tax.
In March 2020, almost the entire world stopped due to the threat of a novel virus that would later infect over 6.3 million people and lead to the deaths of more than 376,000 people. Entire countries were shut down, with only essential workers allowed to leave their homes and go to work so that grocery stores, healthcare facilities, and public transportation systems could continue to operate. For societies that centered their cultures and institutions around the basis of socializing and personable interaction, the pandemic came as an extreme shock. In the United States, the pandemic led to millions of people filing for unemployment and companies bracing for significant financial losses. Almost everyone entered unfamiliar circumstances that required a lot of personal adaptation especially to daily life. Without the looming threat of economic collapse and a pandemic, those who come from lower socioeconomic statuses or impoverished areas already experience disadvantages when trying to access proper menstrual hygiene products and relevant resources. Now, a greater number of menstruators are at risk of losing access to essential products due to limited income or lack of supply in their local stores, as many stores have faced product shortages. In addition, many frontline workers were thrown into long working hours with little break time and called for better access to products in their workplaces that they would now be spending more time in. With governments determining which products and services were essential, the most widespread way to ensure menstruators had proper access to the products they needed was through legislation. In the United States, the CARES Act signed on March 27th, 2020 listed all menstrual products as essential and were now covered by Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Accounts. Considering the constant battle between American menstruators and their efforts in repealing the Tampon Tax, many believe this is a step in the right direction. However, it is important to note that CARES is not an adequate solution for people who still cannot afford or find pads, tampons, menstrual cups, soap, and other hygiene goods. Another instance of positive action occurred in Wuhan City where about 40,000 pads were shipped and distributed to female frontline workers. The efforts taken by the United States and China are examples of constructive measures, but other countries continue to face systemic oppression with regard to menstrual rights. As discussed, only essential items on government-curated lists remained in production, so in countries like India where pads, toilet tissue, and soap were not among the specific items, the nation’s supply quickly became scarce. Indian menstruators in migrant or rural populations felt the hardest impact of this shortage as they had to heavily rely on relief groups to obtain what they needed. A few interviews in the cited article discuss the unhygienic means some people have had to take to “stay dry during menstruation.” Some girls biked for miles across their towns to get products while others used cloth scraps to make pads. In parts of the world where menstruation is stigmatized and access to supplies is disproportionate, the COVID-19 crisis presents yet another challenge for people to properly be able to take care of themselves during menstruation. The articles about India are only a few of the hundreds of stories where menstruators are left to fend for themselves while greater institutions continue to overlook their struggles. In fact, as previously mentioned, healthcare workers all over the globe have expressed an overall lack of menstrual hygiene products and minimal action taken by authorities to fulfill their requests. With so much uncertainty ahead in this pandemic, the best we can do is to use our resources and platforms to help others. At the end of this post, I have included some links where you can find information about donating items or money to various organizations that provide menstrual hygiene products either in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area or nationally. Please feel free to repost these organizations on social media or spread the word about their missions to bring more awareness to people who may be able to contribute to this cause in these uncertain times.
-https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html (cited on June 2nd, 2020)
The rapid spread of novel coronavirus across the United States led to school closures, empty shelves at grocery stores, and entire regions being placed on lockdown. When the first stories about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan surfaced, I can honestly say I never thought about the virus impacting my life. I trusted that modern technology and biomedical advances would contain the virus, and if coronavirus came to the U.S., our healthcare system would at least prevent an epidemic and mass hysteria. Unfortunately, neither of those assumptions have proven to be true. Despite the United States allocating the greatest percentage of its GDP towards the healthcare of all developed countries (with the most recent expenditure being $3.5 trillion in 2017), a multitude of disparities and unresolved issues within the healthcare system continue to overwhelm the funds put into it. The most notable complication involving coronavirus is the overall lack of testing available and the questionable distribution of the tests the United States possesses. On March 6th, BBC News published an article entailing the Federal government’s statement regarding the lack of testing kits despite the increased need for testing across the country. This article shed light on the contradicting statements officials have made in attempts to ease the public’s worry about the country’s preparedness for the onset of the virus. Another article that sparked my interest involved the Utah Jazz organization of the NBA, which acquired and carried out fifty-eight tests for players and associates after one player tested positive for COVID-19. The numbers and circumstances of these stories alarmed me, but what struck me most was how they paralleled many of the healthcare disparities millions of Americans face every day. As someone who is interested in women’s health and is involved in an organization that works to reduce menstrual disparities, my mind immediately went to inconsistencies in accessing menstrual products. Before I continue, I want to be clear that I am not insinuating that the issues associated with COVID-19 and menstruation are of the same magnitude at this point in time, but I feel that there are some fascinating correlations we can draw and learn from during this pandemic. In 2018, the P&G-owned pad and tampon company Always published a study titled “1 in 5 American Girls Have Missed School Due to Lack of Period Protection” highlighting the challenges many young menstruators face in getting the menstrual hygiene products they need. This issue barely garners the same attention that coronavirus testing has because it impacts a fraction of the nation’s population, compared to COVID-19 which impacts everyone, and does not pose immediate, life-threatening danger. However, this statistic, just like the climbing number of coronavirus cases, is still an issue that needs to be addressed and resolved. Just as students, teachers, and professionals have to miss school and work to protect themselves from the possibility of contracting and spreading the coronavirus, hundreds of young menstruators have had to skip school because they do not have the period products they need in the case of an emergency. It goes without saying that this problem should not be as widespread as it continues to be. In reflecting on the Utah Jazz team's ability to readily access test, I found that the article mirrored a similar situation regarding the differences between the amount of period products available in metropolitan suburbs versus inner city convenience stores, for example. On any given day, I can walk into my local Target and pick from hundreds of tampons, pads, and liners with options like organic cotton, super heavy absorbency, and even scented varieties (please research the types of products you are buying before you use them if you have the ability to do so). These products range from about $4.00 to $13.00 which does not seem expensive, but depending on the number of products a consumer needs per cycle these costs can quickly add up. Although coronavirus tests are currently free of charge despite one’s insurance status, the simple availability of testing to the public versus those with a higher social status, such as the Utah Jazz team, is what draws puzzling similarities to the access of menstrual products across the United States. In this analogy, I serve as the NBA players while menstruators who experience homelessness or live on a low income are the rest of the nation, who have limited access to testing. While my hardest decision is choosing between Playtex and Kotex, two-thirds of low income women in the United States have had to use makeshift menstrual products from cloth and bath tissue. This inequality persists within the United States and is likely to become more prevalent among the COVID-19 panic that sent Americans scrambling to hoard items they need amid nationwide shutdowns and quarantine orders. Again, there are several of differences between the coronavirus outbreak and menstruation, but I believe they are not as dissimilar as they seem. While everyone washes their hands for at least twenty seconds and remains six feet from each other, consider the ways coronavirus exposes the inequalities of the U.S. healthcare system, and once this is all over, if there is anything you can do about it to work towards resolving these disparities.
*In this piece, I allocate “healthcare” to mean hospitals, clinics, private practices, urgent care facilities, and all associated personnel involved in providing medical care and treatment when necessary
-Prices found on Target.com in March 2020
I’m Kate and I recently joined The Dot as one of the co-chairs of Advocacy and Internal Development. With Valentine’s Day just having passed, I was thinking about things in my life that I love or have an appreciation for, and honestly, my period was not one of them. I thought about whether this was because of personal experience, social construction surrounding menstruation, or simply finding it to be an inconvenience, and I realized it was all three. Periods are often a private topic and carry a lot of social stigma for everyone. As long as I can remember, I absolutely dreaded my periods because of all the changes that occurred in my body. These include bloating, breakouts, and indulging myself in more sweets than I care to admit. Although many menstruators experience similar symptoms, known as PMS, we are taught to loathe these changes with each monthly cycle. Advances in technology and the menstrual product field further contribute to this idea by marketing new gadgets to soothe the discomfort associated with periods. This month, however, I decided to take a more positive approach to my period and show it a little more love. As a science major, I decided to view my period from a biological perspective and appreciate the fact that menstrual cycles, although they can be irregular, are a sign of a hormonally balanced body. Hormones are active within most biological systems, so without them, it would be challenging for bodies to fulfill daily needs and maintain homeostasis. During high school, I began experiencing issues with my period due to over-exercising and undereating. While I always despised “that time of the month,” knowing I was skipping periods due to these stressors made me disappointed in myself. I was embarrassed that I could not even take care of my body enough so that it could perform its natural functions. Eventually, I gained my regularity back and realized I took my period for granted. The second way I was able to love my period was through recognized empowerment and unity. Periods have been, and continue to be, a source of shame. However, this narrative is beginning to change with movements that want to change how the public views menstruation. People are becoming much more open about their experiences with menstruation and the rights they deserve as menstruators. Various organizations, such as The Dot, are on the rise at universities and high schools to allow young people to work towards reducing the disparities among different populations of menstruators. These collaborative efforts attempt to destigmatize this natural wonder of the body and create new constructs to pass onto future generations of menstruators. Reflecting on these two perspectives, I definitely want to continue showing my period more love and especially appreciate how it keeps me healthy and gives me something to be proud of. I should not have to be ashamed of carrying a tampon to the bathroom or admitting that my cramps sometimes keep me in bed. My reflection about periods is not meant to discount the PMS symptoms and challenges associated with menstruation. Trust me, there have been many times where I have had to take some pain relievers and lay in bed instead of doing anything productive. However, next time you are laying in bed with a heating pad or grabbing another pint of Ben & Jerry's after feeling a sugar craving, I encourage you to try and think of just one way of how you can show your period some love.