How the tampon shortage is exacerbating poverty in the US?

the conversation logo

By Marni Summer, University of Columbia

Tampons have become the latest household product to struggle with supply chain problems.

Reports of a scarcity of menstrual products used by millions of women in the US, combined with general inflationary pressures on the price of goods, have created cost and entry barriers.

In the conversation, Marni Sommer, an expert on public health and menstruation at Columbia University, was asked what caused the current shortage and how it has affected the plight of low-income women and adolescent girls, who may be already experience barriers to adequate quality menstruation. Products.

What’s behind the tampon shortage?

There are a few things at play here. First, it appears that tampons are another victim of the supply chain problems that have existed since the start of the pandemic. But this is compounded by a specific problem with the rising price of raw materials used in tampons: cotton, rayon and plastic.

In addition, there was the impact of the recent lockdown in China on global manufacturing, as well as general staffing issues at manufacturers in the US

Meanwhile, the impact of inflation is affecting menstrual products in general and tampons in particular. According to inflation followers, the price of tampons has risen by almost 10% in the past year.

Does the deficiency affect some women more than others?

It’s a good question. Unfortunately, no one has researched how the current deficiency 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 the homeless and low-income women, that it affects them directly.

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

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

Obviously, the most affected women are women who simply cannot afford the price hike. The deficit, in addition to the impact of inflation, is likely to exacerbate the so-called ‘period poverty’.

What is menstrual deficiency and who does it affect?

Menstrual poverty is the inability to access adequate quality menstrual products. And even before the recent price hikes, many women in the US were affected by menstrual poverty. Unfortunately, we do not have accurate data on the magnitude or scale 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. Income loss due to the economic impact of the pandemic was a strong predictor of uncertainty about menstrual products, especially for women who are already low-income or with lower formal education. Respondents to our survey indicated that it was becoming more difficult to access 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’ve only really started talking about it in recent years. It’s not a topic that women traditionally like to talk about.

In addition to the financial burden, there is also the lingering stigma and stress for women who cannot access or pay for menstrual products. Uncertainty about menstrual products can affect a woman’s confidence to continue her daily life and create anxiety.

Another thing we found in our study of the impact of the recent pandemic on access to menstrual products was that women reported using different coping mechanisms when they could not afford or access them. This included, for example, the use of diapers, socks and cloths in place of menstrual products such as sanitary towels and tampons. This is happening in America now, but many women are ashamed to talk about it.

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

This quality issue emerged in a study where I was involved in looking at populations that were homeless. Respondents complained that the products available in shelters or from service providers, often the results of donations, were not of high quality. Others have described similar product quality challenges for those in prison.

What are the alternatives for women amid the tampon shortage?

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

We understand 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 are eco-friendly, but not every woman is comfortable with the idea of ​​inserting cups and the initial cost 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, sanitary pads may be the easiest replacement.The conversation

Marni Sommer, associate professor of sociomedical sciences, University of Columbia

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