BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – In Louisiana, period supplies aren’t taxed. So why is it still a struggle for some women and girls to get them?

Period poverty, as defined by the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA), is the inability to access menstrual hygiene tools and education including sanitary products, washing facilities and waste management.

AMWA says that girls in some countries avoid school because they aren’t educated enough about their period. Girls can start their menstrual cycle as young as 10 years old, then go through middle school and high school without proper access to period products.

Lacey Gero, the policy coalition coordinator for Alliance for Period Supplies, says that two out of nine girls and women between the ages of 12 and 44 live below the federal poverty line in Louisiana. One in four teen girls in the U.S. was reported to have missed class due to their lack of access to a feminine product in 2021, according to Alliance for Period Supplies.

“So we know that the prevalence of period poverty in Louisiana is very high,” Gero said.

Gero says period poverty still needs a lot more local community awareness.

“We hear a lot about it exists in other countries, but it’s happening here on the home front and it’s something that we need to bring more attention to,” Gero said.

Why does having access to period products matter?

“A pad is not a pad and a tampon is not just a tampon it creates opportunities,” Gero said. “And so what we’ve seen is that not having the products holds people back from their everyday life.”

Woman’s Hospital Dr. Suzanne Welsch says that when girls have access to safe products, it decreases their risk of infections.

“Without access, girls may resort to using dirty rags or other makeshift products during their periods,” Welsch said. “This can cause infections and other medical problems.”

How has Louisiana tried to help?

In February 2022, House Bill 195 was introduced to the Louisiana House of Representatives education committee. Had it passed, public schools would have been required to provide free menstrual products, including sanitary napkins and tampons, in bathrooms.

Alliance for Period Supplies is a national nonprofit organization that focuses on increasing access to period products. It works through what Gero calls “member period supply banks.” These help ensure that people who are facing poverty and need period products have access to them.

How to get free period products

Gero says there are four period supply banks in Louisiana. In Baton Rouge, the bank is called secured. and is run by a volunteer organization called Power Pump Girls.

Gero says they have distributed more than 40,000 feminine products to those who need them. The Power Pump Girls website says they work with over 15 organizations and have volunteers bag period products in packs for their partners to come and pick up.

The other period supply banks are in Covington, New Orleans and Shreveport. Those who want to help can visit the Power Pump Girls website.

What other safe options besides pads and tampons can girls and women use to control their period? 

“There are a few different options for menstruation management that girls and women can utilize,” Welsch said. “Menstrual cups or discs, period underwear and reusable pads are all ways to control menstruation without typical disposable products.”

What can the public do to help?

Gero says advocating for legislation is her No. 1 recommendation.

“Here in Louisiana last year, there was a bill to try to put period products in schools, and it ultimately died,” Gero said. “And we need more and more support for that bill, because that will allow for more women and girls in the state of Louisiana to attend class, and that’s what we want to do.”

Woman’s Hospital offers “Body Basics” classes for girls between the ages of 9 and 12 and boys between 10 to 13. These classes show how their bodies grow, what changes to expect during puberty and how to take care of themselves. 

“There is a stigma that menstruation is embarrassing, gross or even dirty when it is actually a natural and normal part of life,” Welsch said. “Menstrual fluid is not dirty or gross and does not cause infection. Increased education and conversations about the topic are important steps in breaking down the stigma around periods.”

Gero also suggests that businesses have a box for people to put feminine products into. The public can donate to local period supply banks, like Power Pump Girls.

“Certainly, we’ve passed a policy in Louisiana to exempt products from sales tax, but we have more to do and we need to make sure that the products are where people can easily access them,” Gero said.