The $20k gender gap you’ve been cringing at your whole life.
Women have it bad. No, I’m not referring to glass ceilings or discrimination, this is about basic biology and hard cash. If you’re a woman, no matter how intelligent, hardworking or healthy you may be; you’ll have to spend almost $20,000 more than your male counterparts just to exist. Most men aren’t aware of their head start, and still today there is no mainstream movement to level the playing field.
So how much does it actually cost to own a vagina?
Huffington Post US estimates $18,745 over her lifetime
Huffington Post UK estimates $24,011.94 over her lifetime
Buzzfeed Estimates: $500-$1,000 per year
Jezebel.com estimates $2,663.02 per year
If you calculate the average cost of feminine hygiene products (tampons / pads), medication, damaged clothing, and a few associated expenses, ‘life’ is that much harder for women. It gets even worse…
In California alone, citizens pay about $20 million per year in taxes to buy tampons. Over 30 US states impose sales taxes on tampons and sanitary napkins, while exempting the Rogaine hair regrowth treatment and other products mostly used by men. Advocates have sued in New York, citing a double standard.
Video by AJ+ where President Obama was first told that tampons have a sales tax higher than basic goods in many states because they are considered a luxury good?
Like all expenses, this one hits women living in poverty much harder, and after spending 12 of the last 30 months in East Africa, I’ve just begun to learn just how hard that is.
In 2015 UNICEF and the World Health Organization estimated that at least five hundred million women lack sufficient resources to manage their periods. In a separate study of east African girls, over 50% report having missed school regularly because of menstruation.
Girls with no money can’t afford any feminine hygiene products
As reported by TheCup.org, young women living in financial poverty often resort to using newspaper, mattress stuffing, used socks, sponges, and other dirty, health-hazardous products to control their flow. That leads to illness, and even death in some cases. Adding insult to injury, the most common last resort of having no affordable hygiene products is that they stay home, for 3–7 days each month and lay on the ground to bleed freely, and some even engage in transactional sex for cash or pads.
Adolescent girls are hiding from their communities, taking leave from their education, selling their bodies for simple access to health products. I had never even considered that access to this basic commodity could be an issue — and it’s one that completely changes the life trajectory of millions of young women. These things are happening right now as you read this.
On a trip to Kenya in 2015 my wife and I met Camilla Wirseen of TheCup.org, who provides at-risk young women living in poverty in Kenya with a silicone menstrual cup, which lasts for 10 years. Camilla told us about what these girls go through, which I shared with you above, and it broke our hearts. A year later, we went back to find Camilla to see how we could partner with her organization, and sell some clothes we were designing and making in Zanzibar to help spread the word, and help more young women.
We decided to give 100% of the profits from the garments we would eventually sell to help her cause, and then launched our line of these African-Print Robes under the moniker: The Robe Lives.
The more time we’ve spent trying to figure out how to talk about our new clothing line, the cause, and grow the brand, the more I learned how deep my naiveté still was on this issue.
The More You Know, the More You Don’t Know?
I grew up living with my mother and sister, and I’ve been married for almost six years. I’ve never once thought about the actual annual and lifetime cost that they bear for having a period.
Even though us men don’t have the periods, and aren’t responsible for the cost of owning a vagina, we do share in the fruits of the labor.
We all want and need more people to exist (even introverts need someone to write investment algorithms, design housing, and make their clothes), so we all have a stake in the existence of human reproduction and we all need periods to keep happening safely. Thankfully, women volunteered to ovulate for society and inherit the biological cost of actually having a period — if you don’t know how horrible it can be to have periods, give WebMD a whirl of some symptoms women deal with.
Should women then also be responsible for all of the financial cost of having a period…and pay more taxes for it?
Is it fair to society as a whole that only half of its participants are actually paying for the entire period maintenance process? I guess I used to think so…because I knew that women bought their own tampons or pads (never mind medications, etc.), and I was fine with it.
But is it really such a stretch to say that as ‘developed civil societies where all people can flourish and prosper’ we should provide free access to menstrual hygiene products? We all need vaginas to work, to be protected, and healthy — regardless of whose it is. I would argue that healthy vaginas (and testees) are the most important building block of a society, so why aren’t we doing more to help every woman take care of hers regardless of her economic standing?
So what now? Well, here’s what I think;
· Periods aren’t a luxury, they’re the most basic pillar of society, and women alone shouldn’t be responsible for it.
· In Spring 2017, New York and Illinois both passed laws to eliminate the luxury tax on tampons. Is your state on the right side of this yet? Find out which legislators and politicians in your state are fighting for you & help push the cause forward.
· An exercise in empathy — Men step up to the plate and try out covering the cost. Just pick a female friend and say, hey, I want to pay for all of your period-related costs for the next year. #BearTheCost
· Support International and domestic organizations focused on helping women living in poverty to cover this cost.
I’m more energized than ever to help women living in poverty to manage their periods. Together with my wife we are giving people the chance to help 439 adolescent girls who live in poverty to cover this cost for the next 10 years. You can help by buying an African-Print Kitenge Robe from The Robe Lives — 100% of profit is donated to this cause, and each robe purchased will cover the cost for one girl for 10 years.)
Story by Andrew R. McDermott
Our Journey, since 2014 on Instagram here
Adrienne McDermott: @byebyeAdrienne
Andrew McDermott: @heyheyAndrew