Tampon shortage shows neglect of menstrual equity issues, Colorado advocates say
Shortage that began in January affects nonprofits that serve underrepresented communities
Few boxes of tampons remain on a Denver store shelf. (Photo by Erin Persaud/Courtesy of I Support the Girls)
People who menstruate are facing a nationwide tampon shortage, adding to the increasing list of shortages related to supply chain issues. Colorado is not exempt — stores across the state are seeing low stock of the menstrual product.
Yet, advocates claim the shortage is not new and could have been avoided altogether.
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In November, Erin Persaud, the director of operations of I Support the Girls, which has a Denver affiliate that she oversees, noticed her warehouse shelves were nearly bare. The problem was easy to ignore when an influx of donations arrived at the beginning of the year following the Marshall Fire in Boulder.
“There’s a lot of different factors for things. But, definitely starting in January, we’ve really noticed less product,” Persaud said. “If I think back, it really went before that, but it wasn’t so noticeable at that point.”
I Support the Girls is a nonprofit organization that collects and donates menstrual products, bras and underwear to people experiencing homelessness, refugees and evacuees from natural disasters. Since the start of the tampon shortage, Persaud said the organization’s donations are nearly half what they were last year. As a result, she has been forced to choose which schools and organizations will get their requests met.
State Rep. Brianna Titone, an Arvada Democrat, said the shortage is another example of ignoring the needs of people who menstruate. She said the Colorado Legislature needs to stop price gouging to prevent such shortages.
“If anything positive can come about this, it’s a teachable moment to put menstrual equity issues on the forefront so we can have a more productive conversation about a topic that has been kicked aside for too long,” Titone said.
The shortage emerged in January, but Dana Marlowe, founder and executive director of I Support the Girls, said it took a while for lawmakers and corporations to pay attention.
Marlowe thinks the shortage lacks precedence among lawmakers at a national level. She said because the large majority of lawmakers are men, they don’t view the shortage as “consequential and severe,” having never experienced a period.
“If this impacted men, I think we would have had change a while ago,” Marlowe said.
In Colorado, the shortage comes following a new step towards menstrual equity. House Bill 22-1055 was signed into law earlier this month, exempting menstrual products and diapers from sales tax. Abbie McAdams, a co-founder of Red Equity, sat on the coalition for the bill and hopes it will be implemented quickly. With tampon price increases, she says less tax could aid in affordability.
Red Equity, a menstrual equity nonprofit organization with a branch in Denver, has not been affected by the shortage yet, due to donations given earlier in the year. McAdams said while there have been no alterations to Red Equity’s packages, she doesn’t think the shortage will end anytime soon.
“It’s very off-putting and nerve-wracking. And, we’re really worried and starting to make plans for if the shortage continues,” said McAdams.
People who menstruate and depend on tampons from organizations like I Support the Girls and Red Equity are left with fewer choices for managing their periods. Or, they are left paying nearly five times as much for the product if they can get their hands on it.
Many recommendations to handle the shortage that McAdams has come across suggest using a menstrual cup as an alternative to tampons. However, access to clean and running water and the education to use the product is not always available to people who menstruate. She wants to see schools and other community organizations advertise and distribute tampons they may have in storage.
While shortages are not new to supply chains and have been consistent since the beginning of the pandemic, Marlowe thinks this shortage could be the start of breaking away from period taboos.
“By talking about it, we demystify it so that everybody, whether you have a period or not, you can get a better understanding of the costs and the problems associated with a shortage of menstrual products,” she said.
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