Copyright Sarah Bones
The Issue: Menstrual Equity and the Importance of Education
Menstruators around the world, especially in low income communities, often face a lack of access to menstrual products. Without proper sanitary supplies, they may resort to using newspapers, dirty rags, and even leaves to manage their periods.1 The combination of period poverty, stigmatization, and inadequate reproductive and sexual health education has major consequences for menstruators’ wellbeing. It can also prevent menstruators from staying in school, thereby ending their education.2
Through innovation, education, and advocacy, The Pad Project aims to help move towards a world where menstruators feel empowered in their bodies, achieve economic independence, understand their reproductive and sexual health options, and harness the power to shape their lives.
We partner with local organizations and grassroots NGOs to install pad machines, implement reusable cloth pad-making programs, and run menstrual hygiene management (MHM) workshops.
The reusable cloth pad-making programs employ 5 to 6 women and serve a community of 250 to 300 girls/women. The program produces menstrual hygiene kits, which include liners, washable pads, small towels, and soap.
Manual pad machines employ 5 to 6 women and serve a community of 500 to 800 girls/women, and semi-automated pad machines employ 9 to 10 women and serve a community of 5,000 girls/women. The women produce pads for their communities for approximately $0.05 each. The women can decide how and where they would like to sell their pads in order to create more economic opportunities.
Please Note: Although we recognize that not all women menstruate and not all menstruators are women, the vast majority of menstruators we work with internationally are women and girls. Therefore, when explaining our international work, we refer to women and girls as the primary beneficiaries of our programs.
1 in 5 American girls have either left school early or missed it entirely because they didn’t have access to sanitary products.3
Why is it so important for girls to stay in school? Internationally, if girls receive seven full years of education, they will marry an average of four years later and have 2.2 fewer children.4 If they attend just one additional year of secondary school, their lifetime wages could increase by up to twenty-five percent, consequently raising their countries’ GDPs by billions of dollars.5 If India enrolled just one percent more girls in school, its GDP would rise by 5.5 billion dollars.6 It’s simple: educating women and girls has a concrete economic and social impact on individuals, communities, and nations.
At The Pad Project, our goal is to ensure that every menstruator can attend school. Access to pads allows menstruators to feel comfortable and confident in a learning environment, but it is critical to pair menstrual hygiene products with comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) education. Whenever we install a machine, we do so by partnering with established local organizations who can host community-led workshops and start dialogue around menstruation and related MHM and SRHR education. Our film, Period. End of Sentence., can serve as an entry point for these conversations.
Affordable sanitary products are not a luxury and need to be treated as what they are - a necessity.
Menstrual inequity is an issue that is both global and local. According to the National Women’s Law Center, nearly 1 in 8 American women lived in poverty in 2018, and nearly 1 in 3 women of childbearing age were economically insecure (lived below 200 percent of the federal poverty line).7 Women of color are hit hardest by poverty and economic insecurity.8
Menstrual products are currently taxed in 30 states, while other basic necessities like groceries and medical supplies are not.9 In some states, condoms and Viagra are not taxed whereas pads, tampons, menstrual cups, and other necessary hygiene products are.10 “On average, women and people who menstruate spend an estimated $150 million a year just on the sales tax for these items.”11
Tampons, pads, and other menstrual hygiene products are not accessible to economically insecure menstruators via food stamps, health insurance, or Medicaid coverage.12 The tax on menstrual health products, or “tampon tax,” targets Americans who menstruate and amounts to a financial barrier for menstruators who are unhoused, incarcerated, or simply struggling to make ends meet.
The Good News: Between 2016 and 2018, 5 states eliminated the tax on period products. In 2019, 22 more states introduced similar legislation.13 As of 2020, 20 states are tax free!14
At The Pad Project, we refuse to accept a world where menstruators have to choose between buying a box of pads or buying their next meal. That’s why we are committed to highlighting existing laws and regulations around periods in the United States and advocating for change.
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS
The Pad Project’s work to empower women and all menstruators around the world is in line with the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). We are working to promote the health and wellbeing of menstruators by increasing access to affordable, hygienic menstrual products and by funding MHM and SRHR workshops. By providing menstrual products we are also helping students stay in school, which allows them to receive a quality education. Our pad machines jumpstart a micro-economy for the women that they employ, and our reusable cloth pad-making programs encourage sustainable menstrual hygiene practices. Visit the UN Foundation website to learn more about their SDGs.
We're stronger together
We’re ready to give this project everything we have, but we know we can’t do it alone.
3 https://always.com/en-us/about-us/end-period-poverty; Always Confidence and Puberty Study, Nov. 2017; based on females 16-24 years old; 2016 U.S. census.