Sofie Brandt

As we rush through our day paying five dollars for our morning coffee, four dollars for a gallon of gas, and make plans for dinner out, others – including many children and young adults – are one paycheck or unexpected expense away from disaster.

Here in one of the wealthiest states in the nation, there are many among us who can’t easily afford everyday necessities such as soap and other hygiene products needed to stay clean, healthy, and confident.

For those with limited financial resources, another necessity that may be out of reach is menstrual hygiene products. The inability to access and pay for these products can lead to embarrassing situations, shame, and stigma. Imagine the impact on young people who are just learning to manage this part of their lives. This is a serious issue that is too easy to ignore because it’s a topic many of us are not comfortable discussing. That needs to change.

Connecticut is one of a number of states that has passed legislation requiring public schools to make hygiene products available in school buildings as a way to ensure access for everyone regardless of financial resources. The new law takes effect in September of 2024, but the need is evident now. It is estimated that as many as 30% of women in the United States are unable to afford the products they need to stay healthy.

In 2019 the Connecticut-based non-profit Dignity Grows was formed to address the issue of greater access to menstrual products. The group began to assemble and distribute tote bags discreetly filled with hygiene products to help individuals maintain strong personal health practices on a monthly basis. The organization has become a leader as a nationwide movement and has been distributing more than 50,00 tote bags across the country each year, including over 22,000 in Connecticut. The growth of the program, in only four years, is further evidence of the extent of the challenge.

As the name Dignity Grows suggests, making menstrual hygiene products available to individuals who cannot easily afford them makes the basics of daily life easier for a significant part of the population. In my own life I have known young adults starting out in a new job or a new city who have managed their lives and public interactions around where they can access free hygiene products, because they simply can’t afford to pay for this necessity of daily life on their own. The problem is often cloaked under the fear of personal embarrassment.

The cost of menstrual hygiene products is not covered by existing government food assistance programs and they are often subject to sales taxes making them more expensive than the price on the package. The result puts many with limited or no income at a disadvantage that affects their physical and mental health. Teens are often forced to miss school and adults are often forced to miss work to avoid uncomfortable situations resulting from poor personal hygiene. Everyone – men and women – can relate to such a situation if they take the time to think about the consequences of this hygiene poverty.

Connecticut has taken an important first step in addressing this issue in a thoughtful, caring way. The next step is to develop a system of distribution that ensures menstrual hygiene products are reliably available in all Connecticut public schools, not as a goal, but as a fact of daily life. When we accomplish this goal we will have taken a major step toward leveling the playing field and providing an equal opportunity for all to fully participate in the learning process regardless of the stresses of their financial reality.

Carley Taft, MSW, is a life skills and prevention program coordinator.