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CT nonprofits tackle 'period poverty' as inflation strains access to menstrual products

Choosing between pads and tampons. The average prices for both tampons and pads rose nearly 10 percent last year.
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Choosing between pads and tampons. The average prices for both tampons and pads rose nearly 10% last year.

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At the young age of 23, Lineth Gonzalez, a Hartford resident, opened up about the challenges in affording menstrual products amid the current economic landscape. She said the consistent rise in prices of these essential items underscores the financial strain it imposes on women.

“I feel like every time I go to the store, the prices are pretty much going higher and higher for feminine care, it's hard to afford, and also considering there's a fixed tax on everything," Gonzalez said.

Sharing her personal experience with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), Gonzalez said there are additional challenges faced by individuals with certain medical conditions that require more period products. She highlighted the need for affordable access to these essential items, especially for those with medical needs.

“I can go through almost a package of like Maxi Pads, on the week that I use them,” Gonzalez said. “It's a necessary evil, also depends on how heavy one’s menstrual would be, and the heavier it is, the more the cost becomes.”

Advocates for menstrual equity say it is crucial for health, gender equality, and human rights. The effort focuses on fair access to menstrual products, education and sanitation facilities, aiming to eradicate period poverty and enable all women to manage menstruation with dignity.

Jennifer Tolman, the president and chief operating officer of the Hartford-based nonprofit Dignity Grows, said Connecticut is one of the most expensive states to live in, further complicating access to menstrual hygiene products, especially for vulnerable communities.

“We saw these numbers really start to skyrocket during the pandemic and considerably in the years after, as well,” Tolman said.

A national survey by Dignity Grows found that period poverty affects many women, no matter their background. However, the study also showed that the problem is more common among certain racial groups. About 45.6% of Black respondents and 36.6% of Hispanic respondents said they've experienced period poverty. Meanwhile, 32.7% of white women surveyed reported facing period poverty in their lives.

“We're seeing situations where households are having to make very difficult choices between food and health expenses and transportation, and we know feminine hygiene becomes their last priority,” Tolman said.

Secondary financial factors, such as limited access to stores that sell these products and transportation to get there, exacerbate the issue for households with limited resources, according to Tolman.

Janet Stolfi, the founder of the Diaper Bank of Connecticut in North Haven, has expanded its mission to include menstrual products and incontinence supplies for individuals of all ages.

Stolfi said access to menstrual products is not merely a matter of convenience; it directly impacts women’s ability to participate fully in society.

“In Connecticut, one in four teens had missed school because they didn't have adequate supply [of period products]. We know that having an adequate supply helps folks stay in school, and access helps folks stay in work or attend work,” Stolfi said. “These items are not luxuries, they are in fact necessities, and they are things that should be readily available when and where you need and use them.”

Both organizations strive to maximize their impact through strategic partnerships and volunteer efforts to make menstrual products more accessible to those in need.

But Tolman believes the conversation around menstrual periods is still seen as taboo in society, even though they're completely natural.

“It's surprising that such a growing public health crisis is still shrouded in taboos and, you know, whispered stigmatization,” Tolman said. “The next generation of volunteers, philanthropists, and change-makers are normalizing this conversation and recognizing that period poverty is not a women's issue; it's just a basic human need.”

Gonzalez, who advocates for access and education on menstrual health due to her experience with PCOS, agrees.

“It shouldn't be a taboo, it is something that should be taught to everyone regardless of their gender because it's part of humanity, and that's something no one can really stop,” Gonzalez said. “Schools should be more open to educating everyone about it, not just one period in their class throughout their four years of high school.”

Connecticut recently passed a law mandating public schools to provide menstrual products in their bathrooms to tackle period poverty. This law applies to all school levels and ensures equal access to period products. It aims to allow menstruating students to participate in school activities without feeling embarrassed or stigmatized. The law takes effect Sept. 1, 2024.

“Hopefully, it will go into effect for the coming school year, and that will make products available in public school restrooms, but again, having these products available in the home is really a game changer," Tolman said.

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.