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 allocated 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 often 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 piece sheds 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’s impact. 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 the most was how they paralleled many of the healthcare disparities millions of people face on a daily basis. As someone who is interested in women’s health and is involved in an organization that works to reduce menstrual disparities in my local community, my mind immediately went to inconsistencies in accessing menstrual products. I am not attempting to insinuate that coronavirus and menstruation are of the same magnitude, but I feel that there are some fascinating lessons we can 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 constant challenges young menstruators face trying to get the 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 any immediate life-threatening danger. However, this finding is still something 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 to skip school because they do not have the period products they need in the case of an emergency. This issue should definitely not be as common as it is. Especially considering the shortage of coronavirus testing kits is in the case of a pandemic and menstruation is consistently present no matter the circumstances. Furthermore, the situation with the Utah Jazz mirrors the differences between the amount of 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. These products range from about $4.00 to $13.00, which depending on the number of products a consumer needs per cycle can become expensive. Although coronavirus tests are 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 are limited from testing unless deemed necessary by a medical professional. While my hardest decision is choosing between Playtex and Kotex, two-thirds of low income women in the United States have to use makeshift menstrual products from cloth and bath tissue. This inequality continues to persist and is most likely more prevalent among the current COVID-19 panic that sent Americans scrambling to get things they need amid nationwide shutdowns and quarantine recommendations. Again, there are hundreds 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 away 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.
*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 this semester as one of the co-chairs of Advocacy and Internal Development. With Valentine’s Day just having passed, I have been 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 people menstruate and even those who do not. For as long as I can remember, I absolutely dreaded my periods because of all the changes that occurred in my body; I felt so bloated, my acne flared up, and I ate more sweets in one sitting than I care to admit. Although many menstruators experience similar symptoms, collectively known as PMS, we are taught to loathe them with the beginning of a monthly cycle. Advances in technology and the menstrual product field contribute to this idea by constantly marketing new gadgets meant to soothe side effects one may experience during their period. 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 start off with the biological fact that menstrual cycles, although they can be irregular, physically show signs of a hormonally functioning body. Hormones make up a majority of bodily systems, so without them, it would be challenging for bodies to fulfill daily needs and maintain homeostasis. During high school, I began experiences 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 self-induced stress on my body made me feel disappointed in myself. I was embarrassed that I could not even take care of my body enough so that it could perform its regular functions. Eventually, I gained my regularity back and realized my monthly period was something I took for granted. The second point I want to touch on is the empowerment periods can instill in menstruators. For decades, and even today, periods have been a source of shame, but that is beginning to change with movements that want to reverse this narrative. People are becoming much more public about their experiences with menstruation and the rights they have as menstruators. Organizations, such as The Dot, are on the rise at university and high school campuses to try and fix disparities among different populations of menstruators. These collaborative efforts work to destigmatize this natural wonder of the body and create new belief constructs for future generations of menstruators. Reflecting on these two points, I definitely want to continue showing my period some more love and especially appreciate how it keeps me healthy and gives me something to be proud of. Now, I completely understand if you still dread the cramps and headaches that come with "that time of the month," but if you do menstruate, I encourage you to try and acknowledge what can love about your period and maybe start to change your perspective on what your period means to you.