The Period Pandemic: Period Poverty In the Age of COVID

For some, deploying pads and tampons is as natural as the menstruation that postulates them. Yet long before COVID-19 and the subsequent economic blow that rattled the world, period poverty had been a glaring issue for millions who menstruate. According to Cora, 25 million women and girls in the United States live below the poverty line without access to feminine hygiene products, menstrual hygiene education, or facilities for cleansing and disposal. Expand that number globally and it reaches 300 million.

This lack of access has a profound impact on the health, self-esteem, and overall advancement of women, not least for students who often miss school because they cannot afford menstrual products. COVID-19 has only served to heighten those challenges, making the reality of getting a period significantly harder to manage. 

COVID-19’s Impact On Period Poverty

The onset of COVID-19 has disrupted the global supply chain while keeping much of the world at home. As a result, it has fostered a hoarding culture of essential items, including pads and tampons which have been ransacked from shelves alongside the toilet paper and hand sanitizer. The resulting supply shortage has fueled an uptick in prices that were already at an all-time high.

73% of women and girls reported more restricted access to sanitary products, while 68% reported lesser access to facilities that enable proper changing, cleaning and disposal as a direct result of the pandemic.

Additionally, as quarantine has closed schools and office buildings while prohibiting large gatherings in the interest of public safety, many who could otherwise obtain products from school, work, or community centers are now left without the option. A study from Plan International found that 73% of women and girls reported more restricted access to sanitary products, while 68% reported lesser access to facilities that enable proper changing, cleaning and disposal as a direct result of the pandemic. 

Period Poverty On The Frontline 

As COVID-19 has stretched the capacity and resources of healthcare systems worldwide, workers have endured grueling hours on their feet and a pressing shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Although many have rushed to provide masks, gloves and other PPE to meet the increased demand, women, who make up 70% of healthcare workers globally, are faced with an additional challenge: securing menstrual products throughout their shifts.

More than 30 states in the U.S. consider feminine hygiene products “non-essential” items, thereby qualifying them for a high sales tax.

The PPE required to treat patients often requires an extensive process to both suit-up and remove the equipment safely. This barrier, combined with the difficulty of retrieving menstrual products during high-intensity shifts, restricts the ability to change and apply menstrual products properly. Many women are forced to sustain the same pads and tampons for the duration of their shifts or risk soiling their gear. 

Here’s How You Can Help

When it comes to period poverty, policy is an intrinsic barrier to product access. To date, more than 30 states in the U.S. consider feminine hygiene products “non-essential” items, thereby qualifying them for a high sales tax. Check to see if your state has a tax and contact your legislators to advocate for its repeal. 

If you can help it, avoid stockpiling menstrual products or buying in excess for your home.

Outside of legislation, consider extending outreach to your communities or, if you have the means, donate to an organization working to ameliorate period poverty. PERIOD and The Pad Project are both dedicated to empowering women worldwide, provide opportunities to get involved on a local scale, and have donation options that ultimately supply menstrual products and education directly through advocacy work.

You can also contact your local hospital to see if they are accepting product donations or host a product drive and request donations from your friends and family. If you can help it, avoid stockpiling menstrual products or buying in excess for your home. In times of crisis, women’s support of each other is more pivotal than ever. Periods don’t stop for a pandemic, so neither should we. 


Kara is a writer, creative advertising professional, and cat mom based in New York City. She is passionate about women’s rights on both a domestic and international scale, particularly in the realms of women’s healthcare and menstrual hygiene. When she is not writing, Kara enjoys reading, running, traveling, and photography. She is shamelessly addicted to Sudoku puzzles. 

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