Menstrual products are not a privilege; they are a right

Illustration by Lauren Johnson

Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor

I remember sitting in my middle school algebra class, feeling as gross and disturbed as ever. I had been feeling nervous and sick all day, but I couldn’t pinpoint a reason. I asked my teacher to use the restroom, running to see what the feeling in my stomach was. I never imagined that I would see a deep red color on my underwear.

I was 12 years old when I got my period. And just like every other girl out there, the first time I ever got it felt like a nightmare. Sure, we had learned about a woman’s menstrual cycle in our health classes; but nothing can truly prepare a girl for that initial fear that comes with seeing blood on your underwear.

When I got home, I told my mother about everything and she congratulated me on being a woman before she handed me a pad. I always found that to be so peculiar — while I was terrified out of my mind due to what felt like the never-ending stream of blood coming out of me, my mother and aunts were celebrating my womanhood.

What I hadn’t realized was that womanhood was going to be extremely expensive. For too long, individuals across the world have dealt with the same enemy: the price of menstrual products. 

For the first few years of my life after I got my period, I never had to worry about the price of pads. My dad had always made me feel comfortable enough to ask him to pick up products for my sisters and I. He never complained about the prices so I never knew how expensive menstrual products truly are.

When I got to college, most of my finances became my own responsibilities. I knew that I’d worry about groceries, transportation, rent and everything else, but I’d never thought of the reality that menstrual products would be a part of that list.

The concept of charging individuals for a natural portion of their bodies and lives seems extremely backward to me. A period is more than just blood. It toys with your emotions, it provides physical pain in cramps, vomiting, migraines; in short, periods are a week of torture for many.

So, to add on monetary stress on top of that is an exploitation beyond belief. A 50-count pack of Always maxi pads at Kroger is $10.49. For many people, including myself who tend to purchase this exact pack, $10.49 is pretty expensive.

When I used to work as a front desk assistant on VCU’s campus, I used to make $7.50 an hour. That means that in order to buy one box of pads, I had to put in nearly two hours of labor. Even though the minimum wage has increased to $9.50 in Virginia, many people are still using countless hours of labor to purchase menstrual products. 

A period is not a choice. We do not wake up and choose to have a week of torture every month of the year for most of our lives. We do not desire to lose ourselves in the sense of depression, nor do we enjoy enduring the stabbing pain of cramps. 

Menstrual hygiene is not a privilege. In fact, the United Nations has defined menstrual hygiene as a human right. Therefore, the lack of access and affordability to menstrual products is a violation of human rights.

Nothing is more anxiety inducing than thinking I bled through my pants during my period. I am constantly looking over my shoulder and asking my friends to check for me. And I’m not the only one, because I do the same for all my friends as well. What makes it worse is if I bleed through my underwear. Now, on top of the actual embarrassment, I have to worry about the financial burden of having to purchase more underwear.

As expensive as these products are, I am blessed enough to still have the financial means to purchase them. Even if it is with my last few dollars. However, some individuals don’t even have enough money to purchase a box of pads for $10.49. They barely have enough to feed themselves. Staying on top of their menstrual hygiene has been distorted into a privilege rather than a right.

To expect people to give up their last few dollars to pay for something they cannot control is absurd. It is disrespectful and unacceptable. Menstrual hygiene is a right and it should be treated as such. Nobody should have to pay for any menstrual products — and that’s not up for debate.

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