This Week In Women: How Politicians are Impacting Your Period
Approximately half the world’s population spends a week out of every month bleeding, for about 30 total years. We’re talking about periods, of course—the sometimes inconvenient but ultimately amazing, life-giving biological phenomenon that’s the reason why you’re here, right now, reading this. Despite the importance and ubiquity of periods (again, half the world’s population gets them!), the world (read: legislators, who are mostly men who will never menstruate, ever) has made being on your period difficult and expensive at best, or a source of shame at worst.
Luckily, protests and government efforts—mostly led by women, of course—are changing the stigma against periods and making strides to let us bleed without being overcharged or stigmatized for doing so. This week in particular has been really big for periods and for the people who have them—read on to find out why.
New York Eliminates the Tampon Tax:
As we mentioned before, periods are an essential part of life—but we don’t choose to have them. They kind of just happen, as all biological functions do, which is why it’s so ridiculous that necessary sanitary products are often taxed as luxury goods.
“I have no idea why states would tax [tampons] as luxury items,” said President Obama in a video interview earlier this year. “I suppose it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.”
Over the course of her life, an average American woman will spend nearly $2,000 on tampons. That’s a lot of money to spend on something we didn’t ask for in the first place—because, though it may not seem like a lot when divided by thirty years, it adds up over time, especially for lower-income women. Feminine hygiene products aren’t just taxed—they’re also not covered under food stamps.
Outside of the United States, the period problem is even worse. In developing countries where women have less financial security, tampons and pads really are a luxury that not everyone can afford. UNICEF estimates that approximately ten percent of all African girls miss school during their periods, and that a large percentage of girls in the continent “report experiencing stress, shame, embarrassment, confusion, and fear due to a lack of knowledge and inability to manage their menstruation.”
In the U.S., items that are considered necessities—like groceries or medical purchases—are exempt from sales tax, although tax codes differ from state to state. As it stands right now, only six states (of the 46 states that have a sales tax) extend this tax exemption to pads and tampons: Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, New Jersey, and most recently New York, where the State Senate passed a bill exempting these items from sales tax just last week. Surprisingly, the bill was passed unanimously by the Republican-led Senate. If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.
Pakistani College Students Protest Period-Shaming
Periods aren’t just expensive and inconvenient—for many women, they’re a source of shame. Think of the stereotypes about women who are on their periods: they’re angry and weepy, they’re bloated, and they’re incapable of doing anything that doesn’t involve crying or eating chocolate ice cream. When a woman is perceived as being too brash, men will accuse her of being on her period—think Donald Trump saying Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever” because she asked him questions he didn’t like.
In Pakistan, where approximately 23 percent of women drop out of school after starting their periods, a group of college students is working to combat the stigma surrounding menstruation. The group of six female students from Beaconhouse National University in Lahore taped 25 pads, with slogans including “It’s something natural,” “Why should I be embarrassed,” and”Periods make us hornier,” onto the university’s wall. They also held a performance piece where they painted red streaks on their all-white kameezes to represent menstrual stains.
Mavera Rahim, one of the students involved in the protest, posted a statement to her Facebook pae (which has since been deleted) explaining the motivations behind the protest.
“The protest was against the stigma attached to menstruation and the sharmindagi (shame) with which we discuss it,” she wrote. “We are made to put pads in brown paper bags when we buy them, we are made to talk about periods in hushed voices as if it’s a dirty secret, and all in all made to act as if it is something we should hide more so than other bodily functions, when it’s really a natural part of our biology.”
As Miki Agrawal, founder of Thinx—the company whose subway ads were deemed “inappropriate” by the MTA for openly talking about periods—reminds us, the word “taboo” is derived from the Polynesian word “tapua,” which means menstruation.
The global stigma surrounding periods isn’t just offensive—it can quickly become dangerous. According to Rahim, “Several women contract diseases because they are not fully informed of hygienic practices when it comes to menstruation because few people will actually discuss it.”
A Wearable Device That Literally Turns Off Your Period Cramps
As we’ve established, in certain places and circumstances, getting your period can be a pretty difficult ordeal: it can be expensive, (unrightfully) shamed, and it can also be physically painful. More than 50 percent of all women suffer from period cramps that range from mild to extreme, and anywhere between 20 and 94 percent of menstruating women suffer from dysmenorrhea, a condition characterized by extreme menstrual pain and “prolonged and heavier than normal menstrual flow.” Midol and heating pads can only do so much, especially for people whose cramps are more severe.
Well now, period cramps will maybe be a thing of the past, thanks to Livia, a wearable device that claims to be an “off switch” for cramps. Livia’s IndieGoGo page went live last week and has already raised over 200 percent of its original $50,000 goal, proving that the demand is clearly there.
It claims to be pretty simple: you stick the device on your lower abdomen, otherwise known as the part of your body that feels like it’s under attack from your cramps. It transmits a pulse that keeps your nerves “busy,” preventing your brain from processing the pain. It apparently works instantly, and its makers claim you won’t build a tolerance to it over time. It honestly sounds too good to be true—but if science is capable of making a personal trainer for your vagina, then it’s honestly no surprise that they’re able to make a magic square that turns your period off. Welcome to the future—it’s kinda cool.
Stay tuned to Milk for more of This Week in Women.
Images via the Independent and Dave Morice.