How the ongoing national tampon shortage may be worsening menstrual poverty


Tampons have become the latest household product to fall foul of supply chain issues.

Reports of a shortage of menstrual products, used by millions of people in the United States, have combined with general inflationary pressure on the price of goods to create cost and access barriers.

READ MORE: Simultaneous shortages of infant formula, tampons and childcare are hitting parents hard

The Conversation asked Marni Sommer, public health and menstruation expert at Columbia University, what is causing the current shortage and how it has affected the plight of low-income adults and teens who can already cope barriers to sufficient, high-quality menstrual products. .

What’s behind the shortage of tampons?

There are a few things at play here. First, it looks like tampons are another casualty of the supply chain issues that have existed since the pandemic began. But this has been compounded by a particular problem related to the rising price of the raw materials used in tampons: cotton, rayon and plastic.

On top of that, there has been the impact of the recent lockdown in China on production globally, as well as general staffing issues at manufacturers in the United States.

Meanwhile, the impact of inflation has hit menstrual products in general, and tampons in particular. Inflation charts indicate that the price of tampons has jumped nearly 10% over the past year.

Does the shortage affect some women more than others?

It’s a good question. Unfortunately, no one has studied how the current shortage affects different women – it’s just too early. But we hear from organizations that help women who traditionally have difficulty accessing menstrual products, such as those who are homeless and low-income women, that it affects them directly.

These organizations are also seeing a shortage of tampon donations, making it more difficult to distribute these products to vulnerable groups.

The shortage may affect women who use tampons more than other menstrual products, such as sanitary napkins or menstrual cups. And women who bleed heavier will be hit harder by rising costs, as they may need more tampons for each menstrual cycle.

Obviously, the hardest hit will be women who simply cannot afford the spike in prices. Scarcity, along with the impact of inflation, will likely exacerbate what is known as “periodic poverty”.

What is menstrual poverty and who does it affect?

Menstrual poverty is the inability to access sufficient, quality menstrual products. And even before the recent price hikes, many women in the United States were affected by menstrual poverty. Unfortunately, we do not have rigorous data on the extent or depth of menstrual poverty across the country.

But a study I conducted in 2021 with colleagues at the CUNY School of Public Health found that the pandemic was exacerbating the problem of menstrual poverty. Loss of income resulting from the economic fallout from the pandemic was a strong predictor of menstrual product insecurity, especially for women who were already low-income or with low levels of formal education. Respondents to our survey indicated increased difficulties in accessing menstrual products.

What is the impact of menstrual poverty on women’s lives?

There’s not a lot of data on menstrual poverty in this country – we only really started talking about it in the last few years. It’s not something women traditionally feel comfortable talking about.

Besides the financial burden, above all there is the ongoing stigma and stress for women who cannot access or afford menstrual products. Insecurity of menstrual products can affect a woman’s confidence to go about her daily business and create anxiety.

LOOK: Tampon Scarcity Leads to Consumer Frustration

Another thing we found in our study looking at how the recent pandemic affected access to menstrual products was that women described using various coping mechanisms when they were unable to enable or access them. This included, for example, the use of diapers, socks and cloths instead of menstrual products such as pads and tampons. It’s happening now in America, but a lot of women are embarrassed to talk about it.

Menstrual poverty and a shortage of tampons can also mean that women have to use substandard products. Yes, you might be able to get cheaper tampons at the dollar store, but they might not work as well, and using lower quality products might mean a woman has to buy even more.

This quality issue was raised in a study I participated in that looked at homeless populations. Respondents complained that the products available at shelters or service providers, often the result of donations, were not of high quality. Others have described similar product quality challenges for incarcerated people.

What are the alternatives for women faced with the shortage of tampons?

There are a number of other products on the market – indeed one thing I found in a study of teenage girls and menstruation was how overwhelmed they felt with the many options available to them .

Our understanding is that many more women use pads than tampons. Then you have menstrual cups, which have been around for decades but have seen a resurgence in recent years. They’re eco-friendly, but not all women are comfortable with the idea of ​​inserting cups, and upfront costs can be higher.

Period underwear made of absorbent materials is a newer product that some women are using. But for women who are used to tampons but find them difficult to access, pads may be the easiest substitute.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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