Period Poverty, a Silent Crisis in the Latinx and Black Communities

Period Poverty BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of belatina.com

Talk of period poverty sounds like a dismal exaggeration, but the truth is that it’s a reality that affects millions of people around the world — and no one seems to want to talk about it.

While it may be an unknown reality for some of us, as we safely buy our pads or tampons each month, there are those who simply don’t have that option. This can be due to various reasons, from the economic decisions of the country in which they reside to more idiosyncratic issues such as lack of knowledge. The result can even be as serious as endometriosis, a condition that hits our communities of color hardest, especially Latinas.

Period poverty is a multi-layered crisis that varies by country, region, and socioeconomic status.

For example, Mexico City recently introduced a new law banning single-use plastic products. While this seemed to be an environmentally friendly decision and a great idea to create more sustainable products, many people immediately called attention to the fact that this law would include tampons.

A group of feminists and human rights advocates immediately began fighting the ban. As reported by The Lily, shortly after the ban went into effect, tampons with plastic applicators quickly sold out in major stores and pharmacies in the city.

Can you imagine the chaos?

Such a move could lead menstruators to turn to other alternatives out of survival necessity, including less hygienic products such as reusable pads or rags.

“When menstruators resort to unhygienic alternatives, they are vulnerable to harmful physical and mental outcomes. Products like rags, paper towels, and reused pads put menstruators at a heightened risk for urogenital infections, such as urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis,” the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health explains. 

It all ties into period poverty and the lack of resources and accessibility, which, if you guessed, leads to even more serious issues.

Period Poverty and Communities of Color

This hits home since it is widely known that black and Latinx women showed the highest level of period poverty in 2020. In a report by George Mason University, the senior author Dr. Jhumka Gupta comments, “immigrant and first-generation students also reported higher levels of period poverty.”

It is a deeper fear once our immigration status could potentially be questioned. Although gynecology health is important to avoid these issues that could be fought off as quickly as they develop, it is a  common issue in our Latinx community due to fear of going to the doctor because of your immigration status or a high bill. 

When the Obamacare support came to light, The Atlantic reported that “Even with President Obama emphasizing that information provided when applying for Obamacare would not be transferred to immigration services, the 5.5 million American-born children of undocumented parents may find their families avoiding Obamacare sign-ups out of fear of exposing their status.” 

The fear in Latinx and lower-income individuals is so deeply rooted that it manages to affect every aspect of ourselves, including those that lead to avoiding getting your critical annual health check-up.  

Without proper checkups, you’re at a higher risk of unknown illnesses that could develop and spread inside of you if not treated on time. For instance, endometrial cancer is a common illness in our community simply because we lack knowledge of its initial symptoms. 

Yes, we can ease these symptoms with home remedies, but there comes a time when there are greater variables involved. An interesting reason is that according to the Cancer Support Community, “Hispanic women are less likely to receive routine Pap smears and to seek medical attention once they exhibit symptoms, allowing cancer to progress to a more advanced stage. This is particularly challenging for Hispanic women as they face unique disparities such as access to information, hospitals or clinics, and health insurance.” 

Where’s the light at the end of the tunnel? 

To begin with, globally, organizations are advocating for free menstrual products in schools, such as they are doing in the United Kingdom. The global non-profit PERIOD, for example, has the mission statement of “eradicating period poverty and stigma through service, education, and advocacy.” 

By distributing menstrual products, promoting youth leadership, and championing menstrual equity in policy, PERIOD aims to center those disproportionately affected by period poverty and support local efforts for menstrual equity. They are currently accepting donations and set up Zoom events to encourage these types of discussions.

Furthermore, as I always recommend, speak to your community, and particularly involve those who are more discrete with their immigration status. You never know what they are going through and how you can help. 

Our community doesn’t know about these resources simply because of their lack of research or internet access. It is about helping one another and keeping an eye out for those scared to voice their concerns.

Period poverty is an issue that has been affecting us for years and isn’t going to be solved within the next decade. Still, within our communities, we can start the dialogue of supplying free menstrual products for our local schools and recommend a more extended education on reproduction and overall the importance of gynecological health.

How is it that in the United States, they only cover this subject once or twice throughout the years of elementary to high school? It is more than just sex and reproduction — it’s about female health and digging into the uncomfortable layers that are not yet regularly voiced. 

Hopefully, we will soon have more mainstream organizations contributing to eradicating period poverty and destroying the negative connotations surrounding it. There’s so much generational fear rooted in us that we must work together to shake it all off for our kids and their families.