Menstrual Equity 101
Menstrual equity was a term that I had not ever heard until I started working here at Aisle. I’d heard about period poverty, but could not rattle off stats off the top of my head, and definitely did not fully grasp the scope of it. Now I constantly hear myself telling anyone who will listen: “did you know that one-third of people who menstruate under the age of 25 in Canada struggle to afford the products they need every month?”
How did I get here? A lot of reading and googling, mostly. Keep reading for a brief overview of what menstrual equity is, and what you can do to help your community.
Brief content notice: Some of the links mentioned contain gendered language.
Let’s start with some definitions.
Menstrual equity is a relatively new phrase coined by Jennifer Weiss-Wolf in 2015. Essentially, it’s a framework for engaging policymakers. It’s meant to acknowledge the importance of and need for public policy to address the safety, affordability, and availability of menstrual products for everyone who needs them.
Period poverty is, at its most basic, economic conditions where it is difficult or impossible for individuals to buy menstrual products. So basically, it’s scenarios where people who menstruate have to choose food or having enough money for rent over getting a new pack of pads or tampons. If you want to read more about period poverty in Canada specifically, check out this blog post.
Period poverty is a complex issue. There are so many factors that contribute to it, and the situation varies wildly from place to place, person to person.
Here’s the good news though, you don’t have to solve this on your own, and we’re not starting from scratch.
One thing that activists have been working towards worldwide is eliminating the tampon tax. The tampon tax refers to the sales tax that’s applied to all menstrual products, not just tampons.
In Canada, the tampon tax was eliminated back in 2015, but in the US, it varies state to state. For example, there’s no tampon tax in Oregon and New York. However, California still has the tampon tax. And you know what’s not taxed in California? Chocolate bars. Does your state have a tampon tax? If so, is there a petition going around to eliminate it?
Now, of course, eliminating the tampon tax is not going to solve the problem by itself. It’s much bigger than that. So what else can be done?
Research local organizations near you who are already doing this work! I can pretty much guarantee that they do exist, but have next to no marketing budget to work with, which is why you may not have heard of them. You can search for period specific organizations, but it can also be helpful to get in touch with Indigenous advocacy groups, homeless shelters, LGBTQ+ organizations and domestic violence shelters and ask what supplies they need.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Do your research before making a donation! Take a look at their website and maybe consider contacting them with any questions you may have. Not every organization has the same donation needs, because they don’t all serve the same communities. In some cases, they might need boxes of unopened product, but other places may need things like masks or money.
- If you aren’t in a place where you can make a financial donation, maybe ask and see if they need volunteers, or if there’s any way you could get the word out. Many organizations are working towards having menstrual products distributed for free in schools, workplaces, and public libraries, and would probably appreciate your support with making phone calls or writing letters or emails to local representatives.
- There are always more things to learn, and so many more perspectives to learn about. Menstruation is deeply, deeply personal, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to period poverty. We have to be sure that we’re applying an intersectional lens to these conversations in order to be sure everyone’s voices are being heard.
What else can be done?
- Sign petitions
- Contact local representatives
- Keep talking about periods. Stigma is a big contributor to period poverty, and normalizing menstruation and removing the stigma surrounding periods in general will help us have more in depth conversations about menstrual equity as well.
- Follow folks on social media! Here are some people/orgs we love:
Want to learn more?
Here’s a little reading list, to get you started:
- Period Poverty in Canada
- The Hidden Impact of Period Poverty in Prisons
- Periods Gone Public
- ACLU’s period equity toolkit
More of a documentaries person? We gotchu:
- The Bloody Truth About Period Poverty in America
- Period. End of Sentence. (This one won an Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject)!
And if periods really aren’t your thing, there’s also a lot to be said for learning more about reproductive justice in general, or even learning a bit more about sex-ed. We love the Sex Ed with DB podcast.
All of these things are interconnected, and there’s a lot of work and learning to be done! We hope that there’s an item on this list that resonates with you and empowers you to join the push for menstrual equity, no matter where you live.