Periods have never been enjoyable, but they have become even less so during the COVID-19 pandemic. While many Americans have been focused on finding toilet paper and hand sanitizer, many impoverished women have also struggled to access necessary menstrual products over the last six months.
According to Plan International, a humanitarian organization centered on equality for girls, 73 percent of people who menstruate are experiencing restricted access to the products they need to manage their period because of COVID-19. This is due, in part, to stores being out of stock, and also due to the economic downturn leaving many consumers without jobs and funds for menstrual products.
The St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies (STLAPS), a program created through the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank, partnered with the St. Louis County Library to form a drive-thru dispensing emergency period supplies for families and individuals in need, according to the STLAPS website, on April 3. However, this service was discontinued as of Aug. 21.
STLAPS has continued to work to fulfill its mission of providing period supplies to those in need even when the COVID-19 pandemic has left many young girls who formerly depended on their school as a source of menstrual products without such access.
“Most schools have now been closed since mid-March, and so you’re talking about seven months, so seven or eight cycles where girls haven’t been able to access those types of resources,” Anne Sebert Kuhlmann, Ph.D., said.
Kuhlmann, while working as an Associate Professor in Behavioral Science and Health Education at SLU, has extensively researched menstrual hygiene management and reproductive health in the St. Louis area.
Two years ago, Kuhlmann’s research inspired a group of students to start Project Period at SLU, with the goal of increasing accessibility to products and destigmatizing menstruation across campus. This year, SLU juniors Kruti Kadiwala and Naomi Mayer have taken over Project Period. They lamented how period accessibility has decreased further because of the pandemic.
“A lot of people were buying in bulk when the pandemic started, and it’s limiting to the people who can’t buy in bulk and can’t get to the store,” Kadiwala explained. “They have to buy the products that are too expensive or not even the ones they want to use.”
“It’s plain unfair, and with that, the price is already so high for a product or any feminine care item,” Mayer expanded. “We should have easier ways to access these products.”
These disparities are the reason why Kadiwala and Mayer joined Project Period back in their freshman year. Such accessibility concerns are also what drive Kuhlmann in her mission to educate about and advocate for menstrual equity.
“There were many families in St. Louis and across the U.S. that were already living very much on the brink and your basic needs, goods like period products, were a stretch and a stressor, and if you think about how the pandemic has increased that number of families living in that situation and yet we are not doing things to meet those needs,” Kuhlmann said.
Kuhlmann also suggests a way for those concerned to take action, saying “Donations, awareness-raising, and advocacy would be the three-pronged approach that I think students could take.”