Seeking Solutions Symposium Follow Up Report on Period Poverty in St. Louis

A recent report, led by St. Louis University associate professor Dr. Anne Sebert Kuhlmann, found that 64% of low-income St. Louis women occasionally struggle with affording menstrual products such as pads or tampons, and 20% of those women stated that they struggle with this on a monthly basis.  This phenomenon is often referred to as “period poverty.”

Period Poverty impacts women in a wide variety of ways – those who are experiencing economic insecurity are often left to make the difficult decision of paying for food for their families or menstrual products.  To further complicate this issue, Missouri is one many states with what is referred to as a “tampon tax,” meaning menstrual products are taxed as “luxury items” rather than as necessities which are not as heavily taxed.  Because these products are not recognized as necessities, government-assistance programs do not cover the costs for them.  The cost of menstruation often leaves many women with no choice but to use alternatives such as paper towels and rags in place of commercial products, and even miss days of work at a time when those alternatives are inadequate.

Need for Action

The price and accessibility of menstrual products makes the lives of un- and underemployed and homeless women increasingly difficult, and the culture of shame and secrecy that surrounds menstruation has resulted in few interventions finding adequate support.  Women’s shelters are regularly given donations of diapers and clothing, but they are also in great need of menstrual products.  In order to overcome the inability to access affordable menstrual products, many women find temporary solutions which can include keeping hospital admission wristbands, where some women will check in to remain safe and clean up when other shelter options are unavailable, or holding gym memberships to use the bathrooms and showers there.  When women must spend their time figuring out how they are going to manage their menstruation each month, their time and energy is taken away from their families, work, and personal goals.

 Seeking Solutions 2019

Initiatives like the St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies are taking hold in the St. Louis area to help alleviate these struggles for women facing period poverty.  The Women’s Foundation of Greater St. Louis invites you to explore how you can become a part of the solution.

On March 8th, we partnered with the Incarnate Word Foundation to host this year’s Seeking Solutions Symposium with a focus on addressing period poverty.  We hosted a panel of women whose work is making an impact for individuals facing period poverty in the St. Louis area through research, service, and policy work:

·        Dr. Anne Seibert Kuhlmann – St. Louis University

·        Liza Weiss – Missouri Appleseed

·        Jessica Adams – St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies

·        Representative Tracy McCreery

These panelists shared valuable insights about period poverty, including how it specifically impacts St. Louis women and how community members can become involved in solutions to those challenges.  Following the panel discussion, everyone was invited to participate in a break-out session to share ideas about moving forward in alleviating period poverty.

Action steps you can take:

·        Donate/Volunteer!  The initiatives listed below are appreciative of community support – whether you donate menstrual products or share your talents, you can make a difference alongside these efforts.  You can also ask your local food banks, homeless/crisis shelters, and service agencies if you can donate menstrual products to help those they serve.  In typical collection campaigns, items like shampoo and toothpaste are frequently donated while menstrual products are forgotten.

·        Maintain a donation bin at your workplace, school, place of worship and other institutions for menstrual products.

·        Learn and share information about cost-friendly, reusable menstrual products such as reusable pads and menstrual cups.

·        Advocate for your workplace, school, place of worship, and other institutions to provide free menstrual products in their restrooms.

·        Build partnerships with a commitment to address the symptoms of period poverty in your field of work – how does period poverty impact your clients, customers, and/or other community members your workplace interacts with?

·        Talk to your representatives about the “tampon tax” and how menstrual products should be recognized as necessities and made more affordable.

·        Talk about menstruation with the people in your life to normalize and reduce the stigma around menstruation.

Initiatives to Support:

We encourage you to learn more about these great programs that are making an impact in the lives of those facing period poverty in the St. Louis area:

·        St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies

·        The Little Bit Foundation

·        National Council of Jewish Women – St. Louis

·        Missouri Appleseed

 If you have additional resources to add to this list, please email info@wfstl.org.