Women de­serve ac­cess to tam­pons

Ripon Bulletin - - Opin­ion - OLIVIA ALPER­STEIN Pol­icy As­so­ci­ate of Pro­gres­sive Congress

For many women, get­ting a pe­riod for 3 to 8 days every month can be hellish — everything from bleed­ing, cramps, and fa­tigue to the hu­mil­i­at­ing march to the lo­cal store for tam­pons and pads.

But these women are in­cred­i­bly lucky com­pared to thousands of marginal­ized Amer­i­cans who lack ad­e­quate ac­cess to these prod­ucts so fun­da­men­tal to women’s re­pro­duc­tive health.

In par­tic­u­lar, women in prison face an up­hill bat­tle get­ting their hands on fem­i­nine hy­giene prod­ucts. In­car­cer­ated peo­ple earn at most 75 cents a day, which has to be split be­tween ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties like tooth­paste and de­odor­ant.

In prison, costs range from $2.63 for 24 pads to over $4 for eight tam­pons. That means giv­ing up more than three days of wages for pads and nearly twice that much for tam­pons.

Most in­mates sim­ply can’t af­ford it, and lack of ac­cess to men­strual sup­plies cre­ates toxic choices for women.

Prison­ers fre­quently ei­ther go with­out sup­plies, bleed­ing onto clothes they’re then stuck with un­til the next laun­dry day, or end up us­ing one tam­pon or pad for mul­ti­ple days. Wear­ing an in­di­vid­ual tam­pon or pad for more than the rec­om­mended max­i­mum of eight hours in­creases the risk of bac­te­rial or fun­gal in­fec­tion as well as toxic shock syn­drome, a rare but se­ri­ous ill­ness that can lead to death.

Plus, prison sup­plies are lim­ited, and women’s pe­ri­ods may sync up when they’re in close quar­ters. That’s hun­dreds, po­ten­tially thousands, of women all stuck with their pe­ri­ods at the same time fac­ing ten­sion sur­round­ing lim­ited tam­pon sup­plies. Even the last-re­sort op­tion of stuff­ing toi­let pa­per down your pants comes at a price, as toi­let pa­per is ra­tioned in pris­ons.

Go­ing through your pe­riod in the pri­vacy of your own home can be dif­fi­cult enough. Go­ing through your pe­riod in prison with­out ad­e­quate ac­cess to sup­plies is be­yond de­grad­ing — it’s cruel.

Lim­it­ing ac­cess to fem­i­nine prod­ucts in pris­ons is a form of abuse used to wield con­trol over in­mates and de­hu­man­ize them. Bar­ring dras­tic pol­icy changes, prison of­fi­cials have lit­tle in­cen­tive to make tam­pons and pads eas­ily avail­able to all prison­ers.

Home­less women also have a tremen­dous dis­ad­van­tage when it comes to fun­da­men­tal fem­i­nine hy­giene. Un­like prison­ers who have a weekly laun­dry day, home­less peo­ple who sleep on the streets can’t af­ford to do laun­dry and have no place to shower.

This makes san­i­ta­tion a real is­sue, es­pe­cially dur­ing a pe­riod. Tem­po­rary housing lo­ca­tions are of­ten over­crowded with lim­ited re­sources to be­gin with. Home­less shel­ters don’t au­to­mat­i­cally hand out free sup­plies, and peo­ple rarely think to do­nate them.

You can use toi­let pa­per in pub­lic re­strooms to line your

un­der­wear, but it’s of­ten the cheap, ra­zor-thin kind that doesn’t ab­sorb much, and pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties don’t look kindly on home­less peo­ple. Some fa­cil­i­ties still charge a quar­ter for one cheap tam­pon with a tough card­board ap­pli­ca­tor, which is meant only for a light flow.

The av­er­age price for a small box of tam­pons or pads at a lo­cal phar­macy like CVS is at least $5, which is even more out of reach.

Hav­ing the means to main­tain ba­sic hy­giene is an is­sue of hu­man dig­nity. Around the world, peo­ple are shamed,

os­tra­cized, and even phys­i­cally pun­ished for hav­ing their pe­ri­ods. In the sup­pos­edly en­light­ened United States, mil­lions lack proper ac­cess to men­strual sup­plies.

Marginal­ized groups like in­car­cer­ated and home­less women risk los­ing their dig­nity once a month like clock­work,

all for the want of a tam­pon or pad that should be pro­vided for free by pris­ons and housing as­sis­tance pro­grams. Ac­cess to fem­i­nine hy­giene prod­ucts is a crit­i­cal part of women’s re­pro­duc­tive health, and it needs to be treated as such.

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