Getting caught without a pad or a tampon outside the home is par for the course for lots of women. Ducking into a pharmacy or other store to get what’s needed is also run of the mill for them.

But for women without financial resources, access to sanitary products isn’t always possible. At Target, for example, boxes of Tampons, 36 or 50 per box, cost $6.99 or $9.39 -- without tax. As for pads, the costs are about the same, for boxes containing 30 or 42 pads. Depending on how heavy or how light flow is, a woman could spend a couple hundred dollars per year on sanitary protection.

To add a little perspective, the federal minimum wage per hour is less than a box of 50-count tampons; it stands at $7.25. There are 29 states and the District of Columbia with minimum wages above $7.25. The Census Bureau estimates that 10% of the U.S, population is living in poverty, which translates into a family of four living on $26,200 a year.

As for the tax issue, more on this point in a minute.

Age of Enlightenment

Scotland made news this week by becoming the first country to make available free menstrual products to those who cannot afford them. The products will be provided through local authorities.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish government, tweeted out her support.

Proud to vote for this groundbreaking legislation, making Scotland the first country in the world to provide free period products for all who need them. An important policy for women and girls. Well done to @MonicaLennon7 @ClydesdAileen and all who worked to make it happen

— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) November 24, 2020

In 2018, Young Scot, a youth information initiative, released a survey of over 2,000 young people in Scotland. Ninety-five percent of the respondents were female, 3% were male and the remainder did not say.

One quarter of those surveyed said they had issues accessing period products. More than half of them said they could not afford to buy pads or tampons. Most of those who struggled to get tampons or pads said they would ask a friend or use toilet paper as an alternative.

In an interview with Cosmopolitan, Katrina Bradley, an OB/GYN in New York City, said that making a temporary pad is fine, but toilet paper should never be inserted into the vagina, “Because t.p. is so delicate, tiny pieces can flake off, attracting bacteria and possibly causing an infection,” she said.

A tax on tampons

At the end of this year, the UK will be removing a tax on pads and tampons, which up to now have been taxed as “non-essential luxury items.”

In the US, as of November 2019, 34 state governments levied a sales tax on menstrual hygiene products, such as pads and tampons, according to Investopedia.

PERIOD, an advocacy group, and Thinx, a company that makes menstrual products, have called for an end to taxes on tampons and pads in the US, as well as legislation to improve education and access to sanitary products.

In a 2019 report, the groups found that one in five American teenagers have struggled to get monthly protection. They also found that 84% of students have missed class time or know of someone who missed class time because of lack of access to sanitary products.

Sabrina Emms is a science journalist. She got her start as an intern at a health and science podcast out of Philadelphia public radio. Before that she worked as a researcher, looking at the way bones are formed. When out of the lab and away from her computer, she's moonlighted as a pig vet's assistant and a bagel baker.