The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated period poverty around the world. With worsening economic hardship and social services stripped away, people who menstruate lost access to the resources and tools to help them manage their periods.
Period poverty won’t end simply by providing free pads and tampons to those who need them — it starts with education, dismantling taboos, and fighting stigma. But eliminating discriminatory laws and making period products more accessible are necessary steps to propel menstrual equity forward. Eliminating the tampon tax to make period products more affordable and providing free pads and tampons help keep people who menstruate in school and work, and able to fully participate in society.
Here’s a list of nine efforts that were taken around the world in 2021, from Namibia to New Zealand, to ensure that everyone who menstruates can manage their period with safety and dignity.
1. Melbourne Introduced Free Tampons and Pads Across the City
The city announced in April that it would invest in a year-long program to make pads and tampons available in six community spaces, including bathrooms, pools, and libraries. The initiative passed unanimously during a Future Melbourne Committee meeting.
2. UK and Irish Supermarkets Distributed Free Period Products
Irish supermarket chain Lidl announced in April that it would give away pads and tampons free of charge to those in need through a coupon system. Morrisons, in the UK, reportedly gave out period products discreetly at some local branches and was looking to expand the effort to stores nationally.
3. Namibia Eliminated the Tampon Tax
The Namibian government eliminated the country’s 15% tampon tax on period products in March. The motion will go into effect in the 2022/2023 financial year. “There are not enough social and economic circumstances to create safety for young women,” Emma Theofelus, Namibia’s deputy minister of information and communication technology, declared following the announcement.
4. New South Wales Introduced Free Period Products in Public Schools
The New South Wales Department of Education launched a trial in March to make period products available in public schools and eventually make the effort permanent state-wide. If Australia were to provide free period products countrywide, it would benefit over 1 million people who live without access to menstrual hygiene.
5. France’s Government Started Requiring Universities to Provide Free Period Products
Free period products became mandatory in French universities in February with an aim to implement the regulation fully by September. The mandate required schools to install free tampons and pad dispensers in campus health centers and dormitories.
6. New Zealand Made Period Products Free for All Students
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced in February that all schools would be required to provide menstrual products to students by June. “Providing free period products at school is one way the government can directly address poverty, help increase school attendance, and make a positive impact on children’s well-being,” Arden said.
7. The UK Eliminated the Tampon Tax
The UK abolished its 5% tampon tax on period products in January. UK activists had called for an end to the discriminatory tax for decades, and in 2016, advocate Laura Coryton launched a petition supporting the effort that received more than 300,000 signatures that moved the effort forward.
8. California Called for Free Pads and Tampons in Public Schools
Legislation requiring public schools to provide free period products by the 2022-2023 school year was signed into law in October. California State Assemblymember Cristina Garcia introduced the Menstrual Equity for All Act legislation.
9. Several US States Started Providing Free Menstrual Products and Eliminated the Tampon Tax
Virginia Senate Bill 232, which the State Senate unanimously passed in January 2020, went into effect in 2021, requiring schools that teach middle school to high school students to provide period products free of charge in bathrooms.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill in May 2021, requiring that public schools, colleges, and universities make free menstrual products available to all genders starting in the 2022-23 school year.
Then, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed House Bills 155, 310, and 641 into law in August 2021 to ensure that free period products are provided in college bathrooms and at shelters for people experiencing homelessness.
Meanwhile, Louisiana and Vermont both eliminated the tampon tax in July.