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Mission Menstruation works to ease burden of menstrual product expenses for students

February 6, 2020
<p>Emily Estrada, left, and Ta’Sheena Williams, center, and Nama Naseem, left, pose for a photo on Feb. 5, 2019.</p>

Emily Estrada, left, and Ta’Sheena Williams, center, and Nama Naseem, left, pose for a photo on Feb. 5, 2019.

The average person who menstruates spends roughly $1,773.33 on menstrual products alone, if they use tampons, during the 456 periods they'll have in their lifetime, according to an estimate from Pandia Health. This doesn’t include the cost of other products directly related to period care such as painkillers — amounting to $1,229.83 in their lifetime — or birth control, amounting to $11,400. 

“I don’t really have a choice, I am a woman. That means I have a period," history senior Audrey Bakos said. “I don’t have an option — I have to buy tampons, I have to buy pads or it’s going to be a mess and I’ll ruin my clothes.”

With periods typically lasting three to five days, people who menstruate will spend roughly 6.25 years, or 2,280 days, on their menstrual cycle. Currently, all menstrual products are taxed with Michigan’s 6% sales tax, while prescription drugs are tax exempt.

“The tampon tax implies that menstrual hygiene products aren’t a necessity,” said Lauren Sosinski, vice president of Michigan State's Women's Council. “By adding this cost to something that is a necessity, it basically just makes it that much harder for students to survive through college. So, if they’re not living on campus or don’t have a meal plan ... they might have to choose between feeding themselves or cutting back on other necessary hygiene items ... in order to take care of their period.”

The MSU Women’s Advisory Committee for Support Staff, or WACSS, has implemented free free emergency menstrual product stations in various locations around campus through a program called Mission Menstruation. Sosinski said these stations help students who might begin their period unexpectedly spend less time away from their classes, work or other obligations.

Most women's restrooms on campus have menstrual product dispensers that cost 25 cents. However, those dispensers don't work for students who don’t carry around change, president of PERIOD. @MSU Nama Naseem said (Naseem is a member of The State News’ Board of Directors).

“That cost is a burden for a lot of people,” Naseem said. “We accept that we don’t have to pay for toilet paper, but I have to pay for menstrual products if I just so happen to not have a quarter on me, which is pretty normal ... You aren’t expected to just have change ... for a product.”

Also, the 25 cent menstrual product dispensers are only located in women’s restrooms, which makes them inaccessible to other students who menstruate, Bakos said.

“Aside from stocking menstrual hygiene products in the women’s bathroom, they can stock them in the gender-neutral bathrooms as well as the male bathrooms,” Sosinski said. “Because not all people who menstruate are women or identify as a woman.”

Naseem said she believes there is a need for more affordable and easily accessible menstrual products, which is one of the goals of Mission Menstruation.

“When we talk about Mission Menstruation, we just say that we wanna make sure that students aren’t missing class due to their period,” Naseem said. “The most difficult part is trying to promote it, because not all bathrooms have the flyer taped everywhere. ... But if people are aware of it or they happen to come across a bathroom that does have a dispenser or a bathroom that does have a sticker that says where to find a free basket, then they’ll end up keeping it.”

If students are struggling to pay for menstrual products, Naseem said she advises them to take advantage of Mission Menstruation and break the silence around periods.

“Never feel uncomfortable asking someone for products,” Naseem said. “Periods are private and we’re told not to talk about them, but it’s much safer to ask someone for a product than using something that isn’t hygienic like a sock or a paper bag.”

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