CampusCup has distributed free menstrual cups to students at 93 campuses across the United States.getty
Many college students in the United States survive on instant noodles and pinched pennies. And for some young adults, this shoestring budget isn’t enough to line their pockets — much less their panties. 1 in 10 college students struggle to afford panty liners, pads, tampons, and other menstrual hygiene supplies, according to a recent study in BMC Women’s Health journal.
Menstruation is painful enough without cramping our wallets.
Period poverty impacts thousands of menstruating people across the country. However, many of these people remain silent about their financial need. Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, the co-founder of Period Equity, told Bustle, “In the U.S., and in other Western nations, there’s a notion that [period poverty] couldn’t possibly be the reality here.” Why? Menstruation remains a taboo topic in some communities. Some people don’t feel comfortable talking about periods or, by extension, their inability to afford supplies. The majority of women report having concealed the fact that they’re even on their period. For example, these women may hide a tampon or pad in their sleeve or bag on their way to the bathroom. So is it really surprising that people may also hide their period poverty?
Students juggle this health disparity on a regular basis. If someone cannot afford pads or tampons, they may miss out on classes or work. Kaylee Leger, an undergraduate student at the University of Florida, knows about this experience first-hand. She says, “I have PCOS. Sometimes, though, it feels like a blessing. With my PCOS, I don’t have a regular period: only light spotting. If I had regular periods like my friends, I don’t think I could easily afford pads or tampons. They’re just so expensive.”
The average cost for tampons and pads per month is $9. But students who have irregular periods or heavy bleeding may spend significantly more. While this amount may seem insubstantial, it can add up to over a hundred dollars a year. Students living in poverty must make difficult choices to afford books, tuition, and housing. For people struggling to make ends meet, the cost of pads and tampons can be an additional undue burden. Between sitting on a toilet and free-bleeding onto old towels, impoverished students may feel like their bodies prevent them from being able to pursue their education.
Fortunately, a new initiative called CampusCup is providing menstrual cups and solidarity to university students across America.
To date, CampusCup has distributed free menstrual cups at 93 universities. The project is supported by AllMatters, a wellness company that specializes in sustainable menstrual products. Madalena Limão, the Creative Project Manager for AllMatters, describes how the CampusCup initiative seeks to break the silence of period poverty; “Menstruation is a part of life for half the world’s population, so it’s wild that periods are still surrounded by stigma, myths, and taboos.”
A menstrual cup can be a powerful tool to combat period poverty because it’s reusable. This device is aptly named; it’s a flexible silicone cup that a menstruating person can insert into their vaginal canal. A single cup can replace thousands of pads or tampons because it suctions into place to collect blood and discharge. “CampusCup aims to remove the price barrier by introducing menstrual cups as a life-changing product that students can reuse every month,” Limão says. Throughout the day, the person can remove the cup, empty the blood into the toilet, and reinsert the cup. After their period ends, that individual can sanitize the cup by boiling it in water so that it is ready for them to use during their next cycle.
While Limão knew that period poverty is a reality, Limão has still been surprised by just how many students have rallied around menstrual cups as a solution to hygiene inequities. Some students have reported that their universities have now allocated funds for free menstrual products through their university health centers or student governments. These changes can make a huge impact. For example, Limão says, “Students at Georgia State University (a rather conservative university) managed to initiate a Green Period Pantry on campus. The overwhelming interest in CampusCup motivated them to apply for a grant to keep offering more sustainable period products to students through the newly created pantry. And they did end up receiving significant funds to start and uphold the initiative until today!”
Another student at Penn State learned about period poverty after she engaged in CampusCup. Now, she’s writing a thesis about how menstrual cups can help reduce period stigma and promote more positive attitudes about menstruation.
Since a single menstrual cup can last for up to ten years, CampusCup is providing essential support — and peace of mind — to college students in poverty. Reuters found that 1 in 4 people who menstruate worry about the expense of their period products. This statistic includes teens, young adults, and adults: not just college students. But if a college student receives a menstrual cup, then they may be less likely to experience period poverty after they graduate. A menstruating person can save over $1,000 if they use one cup instead of disposable pads and tampons.
If you or someone you know lives in period poverty, you may find assistance through your local health department, a CampusCup group (if one exists at your college), the Alliance for Period Supplies, or #HappyPeriod.