Despite being a necessity for women’s health and personal hygiene, menstrual pads/ tampons continue to be out of reach for some of the most vulnerable members of society in the United States. Not only do the poor have to learn to deal with these less than ideal conditions, but women in American prisons face the same struggle.
Menstrual products in federal prisons became free the summer of 2017, but women in state prisons across the country aren’t as lucky.
Lack of menstrual hygiene products do more than make women uncomfortable during their period. They cause staining of their clothes, and there are health risks involved.
According to OBGYN Darla Olson, the vagina has its own kind of ecosystem. When a woman doesn’t have the ability to change her tampon, the balance of the ecosystem gets upset. This can cause the pubic area to harbor more bacteria which can lead to infections or worse.
“Leaving tampons in too long can definitely lead to toxic shock syndrome,” said Olson.
Toxic shock syndrome can easily go undetected and eventually end in death. Leaving pads on for too long also can irritate the skin and hold in the moisture to cause yeast infections.
With certain states having limits to the number of menstrual products available to women, women’s health is in danger. According to Olson the number of pads or tampons a woman needs for her period varies greatly.
Some women have periods that only last five days where others have an eight-day cycle. In addition, the heaviness of the blood flow differs. Providing a limited number of menstrual health products, would potentially harm a women’s health.
The lack of menstrual products can also affect the women’s mental health as they feel degraded and demoralized by the lack of appropriate health accommodations. Without a wide variety of clothing, women that stain their pants with period blood don’t always have other outfit options and end up re-wearing their stained clothing for days.
Paying For Menstrual Products
The Michigan Department of Corrections allows inmates in the Huron Valley Correctional Facility to purchase extra tampons and pads. Although this initially seems like a reasonable solution, this can be difficult for many prisoners that do not have much money or must spend their money on other needs like deodorant or shampoo.
Medicine to reduce the pain of menstrual cramps also costs money, leaving some women to choose between their hygiene and health or the pain they experience.
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, some Michigan prisoners earn only $0.84 for a day’s work. A box of 36 Playtex tampons is typically around $6.99. This means that a woman has to work around 8.3 days just to afford menstrual products for the month. If a woman needs to buy a box of tampons each month, she would need to put 99.8 days’ worth of wages toward menstrual health.