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Period poverty a public health problem for women in Colombia Mid Missouri News ” Missouri

COLUMBIA — Period poverty, or the inability to afford menstrual products, has become a public health concern in the state of Missouri.

“There are many women and girls who miss school and work because they don’t have access to the products they need to get through their periods each month,” Muriel Smith, executive director of the St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies , said.

Smith said that in Missouri alone, one in six women and girls struggles with period poverty. She also said it primarily affects women and girls of color who live at or below the federal poverty line.

“It’s a burden especially for low-income women, where they’re already making low wages,” Smith said. “And then you’re missing four days of work a month, so you’re missing out on that income.”

Alliance for Period Supplies reports that about two-thirds of Missouri women struggle with it annually. Period poverty can be stressful for those who experience it over a long period of time.

“It takes an emotional and mental toll to miss school or work month after month,” Smith said. “Not everyone in the US has a period, so people just don’t think about luxury taxes on basic necessities like pads and tampons.”

Missouri is one of 26 US states that levy a sales tax on period products. The luxury goods tax is 4.25%, which is a burden for those who are already struggling to afford basic hygiene products. Added to this are increased costs for hygiene products after a cotton shortage last summer.

Some organizations in central Missouri are committed to helping fight poverty in the community in old age. The Columbia Public Library, for example, has partnered with Aunt Flow to offer free period products to library staff and customers.

“I think people are just beginning to realize that period products — like toilet paper and soap — are just a basic human need,” said Erin Magner, assistant director of the library. “It’s definitely time to roll that out in libraries.”

Magner said they began rolling out the free dispensers in the women’s and unisex restrooms in spring 2022. She said the idea came from Megan Durham, one of her youth services librarians.

Megan Durham works in the library

Megan Durham works several days a week at the Columbia Public Library as a youth services librarian.

“I think a lot of people are like, ‘Okay, I’m championing the bathroom,’ you know,” Durham said. “It’s not really something exciting, but it feels very exciting to me because it’s such a basic human need.”

Durham suggested getting dispensers for free period products after attending training at another library.

“We took a toilet break, and I saw it in the bathroom,” Durham said. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, we need this!'”

Now users can go to any of the CPL bathrooms with a dispenser and receive as many tampons or pads as they need. You don’t have to notify any of the library staff that they are taking supplies, and custodians regularly check for replenishment.

Dispenser for DBRL-free period products

Erin Magner said library staff regularly check and refill flow dispensers.

“I hope it normalizes the conversation about period products and our bodies,” Magner said. “I hope it takes away a lot of the stress that a lot of women feel when they’re stuck somewhere and don’t have access to these products.”

Durham said she hopes talking about periods now will normalize conversation for future generations.

“I have nieces, and I have friends with little girls,” Durham said. “I don’t want people to have the stigma that I feel like a lot of people my age and older grew up knowing it’s this shameful secret thing.”

Magner said they hope to have the free dispensers in all restrooms at the Daniel Boone Regional Library by 2023.

“There are a lot of parents and guardians out there who may not be able to access a women-only restroom,” Magner said. “We just want to make sure they and their families have access to these products.”

While Aunt Flow offers an educational discount, it does not cover the full cost of this initiative.

“It’s an initiative that is very close to the heart of the library,” Magner said. “That’s why we support it financially.”

She said the funds came from the library’s operating budget. However, she said there are grants for libraries that cannot financially support her initiative.

“I hope this encourages other people at other public libraries in Missouri to take a similar initiative,” Magner said.

Magner said she hopes the library will continue to fight period poverty for years to come.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Magner said. “It’s a perfectly normal function of the human body and it’s important that we recognize that as a society.”

Durham said she feels so passionate about the project and helps the community in any way she can.

“It’s not an option because we just have to offer it,” Durham said. “Give away all period products!”