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How do incarcerated women manage their menstrual cycles?


Awareness and activism surrounding menstrual equity is nowhere near a quiet cry out, but instead a loud, boisterous call to action for women and girls across the world. When you think about these women and girls, how often do you think about the ones that are incarcerated and denied their basic human rights on an everyday basis? While it’s impossible to know everyone’s past, people that are imprisoned are often looked at as nothing more than a criminal, no matter the charge-- this makes it even harder for women to be seen as worthy of being granted access to menstrual products. As we all know, this access is not a luxury, but a necessity and a basic human right.


According to a report by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, there are over 700,000 women and girls within the prison system across the globe. Nearly all of these women rely on pads and/or tampons, and not only are they not given complete and fair access to the proper menstrual products, but they lack access to decent shower facilities and sanitation to clean themselves during their cycle. Women will wear the same pad for days at a time. Even when they are able to get basic menstrual products, they aren’t given enough to last through their full cycle and they aren’t sustainable!


To offer some specific insight, let’s take a look at some information from a Missouri non-profit organization, Missouri Appleseed. Missouri Appleseed surveyed 90 women, 20 prison nurses and 20 correctional case managers about access to menstrual products. Half of the women said that they have to change the pads they’re given at least every half hour, 88% of the women said they leaked blood onto their clothes, beds or even the floor and 80% of the women said that they use “homemade” tampons. Women making their own tampons or relying on the same pad for days leaves them at risk for infections.


These women are left feeling completely humiliated and embarrassed about something that they have no control over. What can be viewed as “better” menstrual products can be purchased in a facilities commissary, but they’re often too expensive for these women who make very little money every month. As of 2017, federal prisons have granted access to free pads, tampons and panty liners. However, state and local jails still have not passed laws granting women and girls access to free menstrual products.


We can only hope that state and local jails will follow the actions of federal prisons. Female prisons and jails should not deny or lack sustainable menstrual products for women and girls. Let’s make sure that when we discuss menstrual equity and fight to raise awareness that we are keeping those that are incarcerated included in our conversations. We can speak up for those that are otherwise voiceless!


What do you think about this issue in the U.S. and across the globe? Is it merely a matter of funding or are these women and young girls being mistreated because of their label as being criminals?


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