RPCV Health Crusade Supports PCV’s Access to Menstruating Hygiene Products
It is time to remove the stigma and open the discussion on menstrual cycles and feminine hygiene products. Approximately half the people on the planet will have, is currently having, or previously had to deal with it every month. A recent Feeding America study lists feminine hygiene products as one of the eight “basic essentials” across all income groups.
But yet, students in the USA and abroad have missed school because they did not have access to it. At times, many still feel the need to hide it. And, some still become embarrassed even at the mere thought of having to buy it. Overseas, menstruating people are banished to isolation in menstrual huts due to cultural taboos.
Challenges for Menstruating PCVs Serving Overseas
Typically, Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) spend 2-3 years in volunteer service in developing countries. Unfortunately in some Peace Corps service countries or sites, menstrual care options are limited or not available at all. Those limitations could mean that PCVs have to travel long distances or need products sent to them from family, friends, or even other PCVs.
As PCVs, running out for personal supplies no longer means a five-minute drive to the nearest megastore or a leisurely walk to the corner drug store. In some Peace Corps service sites, a supply run could mean hours or even days to complete. And that is only if menstrual products are available to purchase in country.
We have heard of instances where Peace Corps provides certain hygiene products on a very limited basis when they are not available in country. But, this is up to the discretion of the individual Peace Corps country director. We have also heard of instances where the PC in-country personnel provide a list of needed (but not provided) items for the PCV to request to be sent from home.
Just how big is the challenge to PCVs with getting feminine hygiene supplies?
Preliminary Glimpse into Our Health Survey Results
RPCV Health Crusade created a health survey to learn more about the health needs of serving PCVs and returned PCVs in their lives after service. One of the question is for PCVs and RPCVs to identify items they needed the most during service but were not provided by Peace Corps. They could enter any needed item.
The survey is still open for responses but we had took a glimpse at some of our health survey preliminary results. And, feminine hygiene products were consistently mentioned as one of the most needed items among those who identified as Female. Many PCVs/RPCVs also list getting care packages as “extremely important” in combination with needed items.
Our survey results also highlights the shipping cost and lost/stolen items as key factors in problems with care packages. Since our health survey is still open to continue to give more PCVs/RPCVs the opportunity to represent their own health needs, there is a chance the priorities from the results could shift.
RPCV Health Crusade Stepping Up for PCVs
Ever since Peace Corps started almost 60 years ago, Peace Corps did not provide feminine hygiene products to all serving PCVs. So each PCV in need had to find a solution to this challenge for themselves.
RPCV Health Crusade stepped up and answered the call. In fact, Rachel Branaman, one of our awesome group founders, championed this cause from information feedback before our health survey was even launched. For months, Rachel and Jenn, another RPCV, met with as many Senators and House Representatives of the 116th Congress as they could. They spoke proudly and worked hard on garnering Congress bipartisan support to address PCVs’ feminine needs during their Peace Corps service.
We are asking the House to add an addendum to the H.R.3456 Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2019 to include a provision of feminine hygiene products for all PCVs who need them. And, we are trying to work with different Senators for a full bill to include more health-related items for serving and returned PCVs including access to feminine hygiene products.
Global Efforts to End “Period Poverty”
In 2004, Kenya led the way by abolishing its VAT on menstrual pads and tampons. According to Statistics Canada, Canada repealed its 5% tax in 2015. In 2017, India placed a 12% tax on feminine hygiene products because they were labeled as “nonessential” items. The following year, India repealed the tax after the advocacy efforts of activists who were enraged because 4 out of 5 people already lacked access to these products.
In Germany, tampons were listed as a luxury item subject to the highest tax rate of 19%. But in a landmark vote by Germany’s parliament, starting in 2020, the tax for feminine hygiene products will be reduced to 7%, the rate for daily necessities. In Ireland, the VAT on feminine hygiene products is at 0%.
But reducing or eliminating the tax on feminine hygiene products is just one step. Can our leaders and employers do more?
In Nottingham, England, students will now have access to free feminine hygiene products. And, Scotland is now poised to become the first country to end “period poverty” by providing free feminine hygiene products to all ages in the country.
So what is going on in the USA?
US Legislation and Efforts on Feminine Hygiene Products
Several legislative bills are actively on the House floor about feminine hygiene products. H.R. 2416 Menstrual Products Right to Know Act of 2017 pushes for manufacturers to identify feminine hygiene ingredients. Recently, New York state passed a state law to become the first state in the USA to require manufacturers to disclose the ingredients.
And, H.R.1882 Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2019 reintroduces the H.R.972 Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2017 to address the availability and affordability of feminine hygiene products. H.R.1882 expects access to feminine products by those in prison, in detention facilities, in federal buildings, in homeless shelters, receiving Medicaid, and in facilities by employers with 100 or more employees. But, these bills do not include those serving overseas as Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs).
Representative Grace Meng to Draft a Bill
And now, Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-NY) is drafting a feminine hygiene access bill specifically for PCVs! We are hoping that this bill either pass on its own or its language becomes added to H.R.3456 and/or H.R.1882. Representative Meng has championed or supported previous bills about feminine needs and pulled the discussion about feminine hygiene out of the shadows. Known around the Capital as the “period lady”, Representative Meng is an ideal choice to draft the H.R.6118 Menstrual Equity in the Peace Corps Act bill.
Time for the USA to Step Up
In the USA, 33 states still have a tax on feminine hygiene products while donuts and Viagra are tax-exempt. There are bills about feminine hygiene products on the Congress floor waiting for action. PCVs still have to struggle with finding their own solutions while volunteering overseas.
We encourage the continued open conversation and efforts to end period poverty. And, we hope that everyone can join our efforts to ensure these significant bills gets passed.