On Twitter, Jessica Valenti asked if any countries provide free or subsidized tampons or pads. In response, a crowd of angry men denounced her as a “cunt” and a “slut” who just wanted free stuff.
Nonsense slut-shaming aside (do these people not understand that women menstrate regardless of their sexual activity?), the reason this was a stupid response—and the reason Valenti’s was a reasonable question—is that affordable access to feminine supplies is a human rights issue.
For poor and rural women in places around the world, menstration can mean isolation and stigma. Without a way to absorb bleeding, women on their periods are shunned from schools and jobs, and stigmatized as unclean. Tampons and pads are a necessity, but they’re often out of reach and unaffordable. Instead, women use rags and newspapers, which risks infection, especially since the stigma attached to menstration also extends to cleaning menstral products in nearby rivers or streams.
Per Valenti’s question, free and subsidized tampons and pads would be a huge boon to women and girls around the world, saving lives and expanding women’s autonomy. Even in the United States, feminine products are expensive.(Seriously, if you’re a straight guy who has never bought tampons for a partner, go to the store and see how much they cost. It’s bananas.) Something as simple as making them tax-exempt (like other medical necessities) would benefit millions of low-income women.
Asking about tampons and pads isn’t about “free stuff,” it’s about helping women, protecting health, and saving lives.