What is Period Poverty?

Period poverty is a widespread and ignored public health crisis that continues to plague the lives of countless menstruating individuals. At its core, this complex crisis is rooted in gender inequality, deep stigma, socioeconomic disparities, and inadequate access to essential healthcare products. Menstruation is a natural biological process, and yet many individuals find themselves in a position filled with shame when they cannot access the essential products they need. Period poverty is also the lack of educational resources that allow an individual to have a safe and hygienic menstrual cycle. This crisis exists because of the lack of education and understanding regarding menstruation and menstrual health, which is either attributed to stigma or cultural taboos that limit the amount of education an individual receives.

The Most Vulnerable

Period poverty can affect people of all ages however, school-aged adolescents, specifically those between the ages of 11 and 18 are heavily impacted. At this age, adolescents are experiencing hormonal changes, mood swings, and a plethora of other challenges, making it difficult for those who menstruate to not only navigate life, but also navigate a monthly biological process that often causes discomfort and pain. Meanwhile, being surrounded by a society that believes periods should be hidden inflicts shame and can be detrimental to an adolescent’s well-being. 

Menstrual inequity can be especially prevalent in the public school setting. Around 91% of students begin going to school from five to eighteen years old. About 51% of public school students come from low-income families. Low-income individuals, especially BIPOC adolescents will inevitably experience period poverty. It is crucial to understand that BIPOC low-income adolescents are disproportionately affected by period poverty compared to their white peers. These individuals typically face less employment opportunities and economic inequality. Additionally, BIPOC communities are twice as likely to experience poverty than white communities and have historically been at an economic disadvantage. Imagine being in a position where a menstruator needs to decide between food, rent, and period products?



State of the Period is the only publicly available study that tracks the impact of period poverty among menstruating students in the U.S. According to their 2021 study, “almost half of Black and Latinx students feel they are not able to do their best schoolwork because of the lack of access to period products, compared to 28% among white students.” There is a clear correlation between the socioeconomic status of an individual, and their ability to succeed in the classroom. In order to address period poverty, there needs to be an understanding of the drastic disparities between marginalized groups and the white society, but it is also the severe stigma regarding menstruation. 

The Right to Feel Shame-Free

It is not just one’s economic status that can lead to period poverty. Period stigma is a leading factor to the continuation of period poverty. Educational institutions play a major role in furthering stigma. There is an incredibly archaic teaching principle that conducts sex education classes in separate sessions for boys and girls. This type of teaching creates a narrative that periods should be hidden and encourages young menstruators to silence their voices. 

Additionally, other marginalized groups, such as adolescents in the LGBTQ community, are also at an extreme risk of experiencing menstrual stigma. Sex-education classes are no longer gender conscious. Separating boys and girls isolates transgender and non-binary individuals who already face dramatic boundaries. While menstruation is a biological factor associated with the female sex, not all menstruators identify as female. If period stigma already affects female-identifying individuals, imagine what it is like for those who do not fit into society’s binary.

Educational institutions are failing to provide shame-free and inclusive menstrual health education. The facts are that 76% of students say there is a negative association that periods are gross and unsanitary, and 65% agree that society teaches people to be ashamed of their periods. Additionally, 70% say the school environment makes them incredibly self-conscious of their periods. The current method of teaching students not only ignores the incredible levels of stigma at school and society, but also ignores that there could be transgender or non-binary individuals in both rooms. Public schools are actively minimizing their students’ experiences and creating barriers for them to fully take advantage of their education.


Title IX

There is one force that is allowing inequity to rampage. Title IX is a federal law whose sole purpose is to ensure that everybody in the United States has an equal and safe learning environment. A person who does not menstruate walks into school with everything they need to succeed. Someone who does menstruate and needs to have the appropriate resources will unequivocally be faced with an unequal learning experience. State of the Period states that 59% of students say they rarely or never find free period products in school bathrooms, which should be provided, considering Title IX is in place to provide an equal learning experience. 

A 2019 study by Professor Christopher Cotropia included 700 females aged eighteen to twenty-five, focusing on their access to menstrual products while in high school. This study found that 92% had required a new pad or tampon during the school day, and only 42% of all respondents attended schools where menstrual products were provided. 17.6% of respondents also stated that the lack of access was impacting their ability to learn. There is a clear correlation between a school violating Title IX, failing to provide menstrual products, and its negative implication on a student’s ability to learn.

Making menstrual products available in schools can make an enormous difference in the life of a menstruator. State of the Period reported that out of 1,010 students surveyed, 2⁄3 of teens said that they felt stressed due to the inaccessibility to menstrual products at their school. A staggering 84% have missed or know somebody who has missed class because they do not have access to menstrual products. Most importantly, students do not feel supported by their school and feel that they are not in an environment where it is safe to discuss periods.

Legislation needs to be put in place to protect students. Title IX has unique regulations that educational institutions must follow to protect a pregnant student. Under Title IX, a pregnant student can ask for bathroom breaks, and they will immediately be granted. However, menstruation, a biological process, is not mentioned. Why aren’t there guidelines for an equally natural process such as pregnancy? Achieving menstrual equity includes making dramatic changes in Title IX regulations. 

What’s Next?

In August of 2023, Governor Phil Murphy signed Bill 1221 to provide free access to menstrual products for students in grades 6 to 12. The bill is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz and Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera. Although this is a massive step forward in achieving menstrual equity, more can be done on a Federal level.  Currently, 25 States, including Washington D.C have passed legislation to help menstruating students have free and accessible access to period products while in school. Although this is a massive step towards menstrual equity, going past the state and local level can lead to more significant change. Title IX must include gender-inclusive language and specific guidelines for schools to provide free menstrual products in all bathrooms. Besides Title IX, primary and secondary schools have a significant opportunity to make a difference. By openly and honestly discussing period poverty and menstruation, there can be a shift in how others view periods. Public schools should host menstrual health and education workshops in a safe and welcoming environment. Additionally, in order to fully understand the extent of period stigma, individuals must be thoroughly educated on the most marginalized, such as the BIPOC and LGBTQ communities. 

About the Author: Sofia Santana is a PR and Social Media Intern at the Lesniak Institute for American Leadership. Sofia is a first year student at Saint Elizabeth University pursuing a degree in Communications and Political Science.