What the Tampon Shortage Can Teach Us About Period Poverty

Drugstore shelves that usually stock menstrual products are becoming increasingly empty. What does this mean for the people who are most affected?

 When the news of a tampon shortage hit the headlines earlier this summer, I was thoroughly disturbed. It couldn’t help but shudder at the apocalyptic message it sent about what life would be like sans menstrual protection. Then, when Roe vs. Wade was overturned two weeks later, I promptly forgot. All of a sudden, a dearth of tampons on drugstore shelves felt deeply unimportant compared to the gravity of a person’s right to choose being stripped away

But when I reach Kate Barker Swindell, the service and operations manager at PERIOD., she assures me that discussing the tampon shortage is just as — perhaps even more — relevant in the wake of Roe vs. Wade. “A period is the beginning of your reproductive life,” she says. “When you get your first period, that's welcome to the world of being able to get pregnant.”

Black woman wearing Kt by Knix period underwear

So what exactly is happening?

“To put it bluntly, tampons are next to impossible to find,” Michelle Wolfe, a Montana-based radio host, told Time magazine earlier this year. You’ve probably heard “supply chain issues” given as a reason why things are hard to find, meaning that the long complicated network required to bring a product from raw materials all the way to your house is encountering difficulties, and tampons are no exception. Tampons are made out of cotton, rayon, pulp and plastic for applicators — all materials that have soared in demand for medical supplies throughout the pandemic. The Covid-19 virus has also forced closures at some facilities where tampons are manufactured, meaning no one can come to work, so less tampons end up getting made.

White woman wearing Kt by Knix period underwear stands in front of a brick wall

Why is it such a big problem?

When menstrual products aren’t available, people suffer. “You have to have period products to participate in your daily life – to go to school, to go to work, to leave your house,” says Swindell. According to a recent study, one in five young menstruators in the US will have to miss school because of their periods, which may cause them to fall behind. Hourly wage earners have it even worse. Those who don’t have the option of working from home simply won’t get paid if they don’t show up to work, no matter how good the reason. “A quarter of your monthly productivity is out the door if you don’t have the menstrual products you need,” she says.

What about reusables like menstrual cups and period underwear? While they’re great for those who can afford them, the reality is that not everyone can. Also not everyone has the access to running water required to make them a practical option. Imagine if you relied on public bathrooms or gym showers to access running water? The idea of hauling around a pair of dirty period underwear for an indeterminate amount of time until you can get to a laundromat sounds less than ideal.

South Asian woman wearing Kt by Knix period underwear sitting on grass

What can I do about it?

Swindell says that the tampon shortage is indicative of the fact that lawmakers do not necessarily have the needs of women and gender nonconforming folks at top of mind. (Understatement of the century? Perhaps.) The most important thing you can do is make your voice heard. 

  1. Organize a tampon drive

Find the people in your community who are experiencing period poverty and make sure they’re able to get the products they need. PERIOD. has an excellent guide on how to host a menstrual product drive that you can read here

  1. Make your voice heard

If you believe that pads and tampons should be free, be vocal about it. Bring it up in conversations with friends and family. Contact your local political representatives and let them know you support the Menstrual Equity for All Act introduced by Congresswoman Grace Meng in 2019. (If the bill is passed, menstrual products will be covered by Medicaid.)

  1. Participate in our #PeriodOvershare campaign

Kt has partnered with PERIOD. to get reusable period products to folks in need through our #PeriodOvershare campaign. For each period story shared on Instagram and TikTok with the hashtag, Kt will donate a product to LGBTQIA2+ and BIPOC communities through organizations working with PERIOD (with a minimum donation of 20,000 products, and up to 60,000!). So far, we've donated over 2,000 reusable period products across 7 organizations, including Elica Resource Center and Clothe The WestWant to join the movement to fight period stigma and poverty in one fell swoop? Here’s how.

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