MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) – Elizabeth Marlowe has seen people wear the same menstrual pad for a week, use newspaper to collect blood and keep tampons in for too long because they can’t afford period products.
It’s a problem, she said, that’s only getting worse.
“Usually, if you can’t afford groceries, you can’t afford your menstrual health products,” said Marlowe, a co-leader of the Myrtle Beach chapter of The Period Project, an organization that creates free kits for those who cannot afford tampons and pads.
One in five women or girls between the ages of 12 and 44 in South Carolina live below the federal poverty line, and one in four people who menstruate have missed school or work because they didn’t have access to period supplies, according to a 2019 fact sheet from the Alliance for Period Supplies.
Among college-aged women, 14.2% have experienced period poverty within the last year, and an extra 10% experienced it monthly, according to a 2021 study published in BMC Women’s Health.
And according to the 2021 State of the Period report, more than half of menstruating students said they have worn period products longer than what’s recommended.
That can lead to severe health consequences, especially for tampons, which can potentially cause deadly toxic shock syndrome if worn for too long.
Since forming in 2017, the Myrtle Beach chapter of The Period Project, which covers Horry, Georgetown and Marion counties, has distributed more than 30,000 period packs.
It started by creating packs for homeless and domestic violence shelters. Then, after educators started reaching out, the group began offering them to Title I schools, as well.
Five years later, the chapter now services about 20 agencies, in addition to schools.
Marlowe said that students will start their periods at school, don’t have supplies on them and don’t have the resources at home, either. What happens, then, she said, is that school nurses personally get involved.
“Unfortunately, school nurses are mostly left with the burden of paying for the products,” Marlowe said.
She first started seeing inflation’s impact on menstrual products in November. Then, she began hearing from people who couldn’t find tampons and pads on the shelves.
It’s gotten progressively worse since then. Marlowe has seen prices increase between 30% and 50% since April – and in some cases even doubling – and attributes some of the increasing costs on Russia’s invasion on Ukraine, which subsequently raised the cost of cotton.
Now, she said some companies are limiting how many boxes the organization can order.
When it comes to access, price isn’t even the only issue.
“It is honestly just what you can find anymore,” Marlowe said.
With the price of food and rent also seeing large jumps, people are having to choose between paying for groceries, their electric bill and their menstrual products.
If someone doesn’t have access to running water, Marlowe said, they can’t wash their clothes or reusable menstrual products like a menstrual cup or period underwear.
In South Carolina, the luxury tax applies to menstrual products.
“In general, they shouldn’t be a luxury product,” Marlowe said.
But efforts to remove the luxury tax from menstrual products have gained no traction in the General Assembly. The most recent proposed piece of legislation, the Female Health and Wellness Act, was introduced by Sen. Mike Fanning (D-Fairfield) in February 2021. Fanning is listed as the bill’s only sponsor, and the proposed law was never heard in the Senate Committee on Medical Affairs.
Marlowe attributes the lack of movement to a male-dominated General Assembly.
“It is really hard to push an agenda for menstrual health when men are the ones in charge,” she said. “It is just not a priority.”
She’s seen some recent changes, noting that a male legislator approached her to ask questions and stated that he didn’t realize that period poverty is an issue.
A big reason why period poverty isn’t noticed, she said, is because of a lack of education. Overwhelmed schools aren’t able to dedicate resources to menstruation classes, and students don’t know what a healthy versus unhealthy period looks like.
“A lot of kids can’t identify their own body parts, let alone what happens to those body parts when they’re menstruating,” she said.
The kits include menstrual health information. She’s also noticing that middle school girls are becoming more involved in helping pack the kits.
“It is so fun, it is,” she said. “They are very specific to the pads they want, and I love it.”
Marlowe encourages contacting state lawmakers to advocate for eliminating the luxury tax on period products, adding them to WIC and SNAP benefits, and providing free menstrual products in public buildings. She also encourages voting for lawmakers who support the measures.
“It is basic health care, and everybody should be entitled to it,” Marlowe said. “It shouldn’t just be because you can pay for it.”
Marlowe said people can help by volunteering with the project, whether that’s gathering, packaging or delivering kits. The Period Project also has an Amazon wishlist.
Period Project drop-off locations for pads and tampons in Myrtle Beach are located at Cut, Bang, Blow Hair Salon, the Starbucks at 470 Hwy. 17 Bypass South, Yoga in Common and Saving Grace Music School.