By Sophie Schulte-Hillen. Photo: BFA.
In honor of International Women’s Day yesterday, Meghan Markle published a powerful essay for Time, titled “How Periods Affect Potential,” that advocates for a global necessity that is crucial to gender equality: better education to dispel the cultural taboo of menstruation and access to feminine hygiene products that empower young women to pursue their goals.
“Imagine a world where the female leaders we revere never achieved their full potential because they dropped out of school at the age of 13,” wrote the actress, who is the Global Ambassador for World Vision, just like her boyfriend Prince Harry’s late mother, Lady Diana. In her open essay, she explored the ramifications of not only the shame-filled stigma that is attached to menstruation in countries ranging from sub-Saharan Africa to Iran, but also the “direct barrier to girls’ education” that comes with female students missing school for up to a week every month in many parts of the world where tampons are unavailable or simply unaffordable.
Given that access to education for girls is a battle in its own right in many parts of the world, “when a girl misses school because of her period, cumulatively that puts her behind her male classmates by 145 days,” Markle wrote. “The increased likelihood of [girls] stopping their education due to lack of access to proper sanitary facilities . . . is thwarting their ability to break the cycle of poverty and become members of the community who could foster economic growth.”
Markle recently traveled to Mumbai and Delhi with World Vision to work with women and girls affected by the issue—but her message also strikes close to home. Millions of significantly more empowered American women came together to oppose the Trump administration’s views on gender equality by protesting, striking, or refusing to purchase goods yesterday, and yet even a basic necessity such as tampons continues to lack sufficient legislative protection in the United States. In a country where medical necessities from witch hazel to throat lozenges are tax-exempt—and Viagra largely continues to be covered by insurance while contraceptives like the pill are not—tampons are still taxed as “luxury goods” in 40 states, adding to an expense that affects half of the population for around 30 years of their life in order to, quite literally, leave the house.
It’s an issue that former first lady Michelle Obama has spoken out on, succinctly offering by way of explanation, “I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.” Perhaps Markle’s solution for a global problem is just as relevant stateside. “We need to push the conversation, mobilize policy making surrounding menstrual health initiatives, support organizations who foster girls’ education from the ground up, and within our own homes, we need to rise above our puritanical bashfulness when it comes to talking about menstruation.” Now who could argue with that?
This story originally appeared on Vogue.
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