Broadening the Lens: Menstrual Challenges in Rural Communities
Period poverty—the struggle to access and afford feminine hygiene products—weaves throughout the landscape, affecting millions of women from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and geographic locations. While this daunting plight has similar effects on those impacted (health risks, school absenteeism, missed work, etc.), the barriers that create period poverty may vary. This requires us to mindfully adjust our lens when discussing and addressing issues of menstrual health and product accessibility so that we may shed light on a broader population, ensuring that no women are excluded in this quest for menstrual equity.
Product cost is undoubtedly one of the most pressing contributors to period poverty. With products costing over $70 per year, and no coverage for these products through government assistance programs like WIC, many women are faced with the choice between buying adequate menstrual hygiene supplies or other basic necessities such as food. Ultimately, women may choose to overuse or improvise makeshift products, which is not only unsanitary but can pose serious health risks (in addition to the impact on their confidence and self-esteem).
In addition to the high cost of feminine hygiene products, women in rural communities face unique challenges in terms of product accessibility. A recent study shared by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that 54.4 million people (17.7 percent of the U.S. population) live in “low income, low access” areas. For rural communities, this means that the nearest supermarket is over 10 miles away.
This highlights another unique challenge faced by women in rural communities: access to reliable transportation. Rural communities have less resources for public transportation, so reliance on private vehicles (including gas and maintenance) is critical. Many women share a vehicle with their partners or other family members. If their periods arrive unexpectedly and they don’t have way to get to the nearest store, consider the position this puts them in.
With limited shopping options and less access to the reliable, consistently low prices offered by big-box stores, which are more heavily concentrated in suburban communities, people in rural communities often pay a higher price for feminine hygiene products. Further, for many who live in poverty and struggle to afford one month’s worth of supplies, the option to save money by buying in bulk is simply unfeasible.
So, after expanding our understanding of the ways period poverty affects women within rural areas, the next step is to consider and promote solutions. Powerful advocate Jennifer Weiss-Wolf says there are several ways to impact positive change:
Call your legislators to command removal of the tax on feminine hygiene products, and encourage expansion of government assistance programs to cover these supplies.
Participate in calls-to-action for public places (including schools and businesses) to provide these supplies.
Organize drives to raise awareness and funds.
Poverty is a vicious cycle that requires resources and advocacy to break. Research demonstrates that those living in poverty within rural communities faced particularly harsh detriments with the 2007-2009 recession and are still, a decade later, struggling to recover. Help lift women within these populations by lending your voice and energy to missions like ours at Be a Rose. Let no community be forgotten in our quest to empower women through menstrual equity!
By: Aanee Nichols