© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

St. Louis nonprofit spreads period poverty awareness

Maria Fabrizio
In St. Louis, roughly two-thirds of women can't afford menstrual hygiene products. That’s according to results from a 2019 study by St. Louis University.

Access to menstrual hygiene products remains a challenge for most adults and teens in St. Louis.

“It’s what we would consider a hidden issue, because it’s a very personal issue that people just don’t really talk about,” said Muriel Smith, the executive director of the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank.

The local nonprofit is raising awareness this week for period poverty, the inability to afford menstrual hygiene products on a monthly basis.

“When we say lack of access to resources, we’re talking about more than just products and supplies” said Anne Sebert Kuhlmann, an associate professor in the College for Public Health and Social Justice at St. Louis University. “Obviously products and supplies is a big component of it, but we are also talking about knowledge, education, access to toilet facilities, water, soap and a place for disposable products.”

Federally funded public assistance programs typically don’t cover those products. Smith said they are pushing for legislation in the state to eliminate a tax on menstruation products.

“Missouri taxes period products as luxury items,” Smith said. “We’ve been trying for the past few years to get that luxury tax taken off of those items, because obviously they’re a basic need.”

The region was at the center of a 2019 St. Louis University study that found roughly two-thirds of low-income women surveyed can’t afford pads or tampons. Sebert Kuhlmann, who authored the study, said improving access also means improving mental health.

“There’s a really important component of a sense of dignity and self-worth: being able to maintain your own personal hygiene," Sebert Kuhlmann said. "This is something that we’ve heard from a lot of the women that we have interviewed. Imagine what it’s like to not even be able to take care of yourself?”

The average number of cycles per year is 13, she said. That leads to 1 in 3 low-income women missing work and other outings. Roughly 1 in 4 teens misses school.

Sebert Kuhlmann said this is a direct consequence of not being able to afford menstrual hygiene supplies.

“We’ve seen a huge portion of students who report that they are missing school a day per month, a day per cycle,” she said. “A good portion of it is not having products themselves, but some of it is also not having the ability to maintain hygiene. So concerns around odor, not having enough underwear, that type of thing.”

Smith said that also means people are using alternatives, which can be a detriment to their physical health, including using a pad or tampon longer than they should.

“In some cases they are using other items because they can’t afford pads and tampons,” Smith said. “They’re using toilet paper or socks or towels or something that’s not healthy for them to be using.”

The St. Louis Area Diaper Bank has created free menstrual kits with 20 items that include tampons, pads and educational materials. The kits can be picked up at several participating St. Louis and St. Louis County library branches.

Marissanne is the afternoon newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.