Individuals of diverse gender identities experience menstruation, with women traditionally being the primary consumers of menstrual products. As we approach International Women’s Day, our team examined the financial burden of menstrual products, which varies widely across countries.

This report by Healthnews explores the cost disparities of the most commonly used menstrual product — pads. By looking at the prices of the most affordable pads in various countries and converting them to U.S. dollars, we aim to identify the countries where menstrual products are the least and most expensive, as well as the global lifetime cost of menstruation.

Methodology

To calculate the cost of menstrual pads, we found the lowest price for a single pad in 30 countries, using local currency rates before converting them into U.S. dollars. For the United Kingdom, we considered prices from England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, noting that Scotland has offered sanitary products for free since 2022.

We sourced the price data by conducting Google searches for local pharmacies, drugstores, and supermarkets within each country. These searches were done in both English and the respective local languages. To calculate the lifetime cost of having a period, we multiplied the cost of a single pad in each country by 11,400 — the average number of times a person uses pads throughout their lifetime.

Key findings

Germany and Finland stand out for having the most affordable menstrual pads, with one pad costing just $0.04. This price point, combined with the respective average monthly incomes, makes pads extremely accessible in these countries. The lifetime cost for pads in Germany and Finland is around $490.

Conversely, the United Arab Emirates has the highest pad price at $0.23 each. Despite residents having a higher average income, pads consume a larger portion of monthly salaries, showing a significant financial burden. Over a lifetime, an individual in the UAE spends approximately $2,668 on pads.

In the United States and Australia, pads cost $0.15 and $0.14 respectively. When considering the average monthly incomes, pads in these countries are more affordable than in the UAE but still represent a considerable expense for many.

Sweden finds itself in the middle ground, with pads that fit moderately into monthly budgets. In Poland, despite lower pad prices, the relative cost to consumers is higher than in countries with higher incomes. Therefore, lower product prices do not always equate to greater accessibility.

The global struggle

In many developed countries, including Switzerland and Italy, tampons and sanitary pads are subject to a Value-Added Tax (VAT) at rates higher than non-essential everyday goods.

In the U.S., for example, 36 states levy a sales tax on menstrual hygiene products, a cost not applied to items such as spermicidal condoms and erectile dysfunction medications. This ‘tampon tax’ places an additional financial burden on individuals experiencing periods, affecting their ability to participate in daily life.

Efforts to reduce or abolish the ‘tampon tax’ have been successful in countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, and some U.S. states. However, the tax remains high in places like Denmark, Sweden, and Hungary, with rates of 25%, 25%, and 27%, respectively.

In response to these disparities, Germany reduced its VAT on menstrual hygiene products from 17% to 7% in 2020, recognizing them as basic necessities. Italy followed suit, lowering its VAT to 5% in 2023, down from 10% in 2022.

The European Union updated a directive in 2022, allowing member states greater flexibility to reduce VAT on sanitary products beyond the previous 5% limit. Despite this progress, many women in Europe still face a 23% VAT on menstrual products, with their often lower incomes being taxed at the same level as men.

In South Korea, the Czech Republic, and Mexico, initiatives are underway to cut taxes on menstrual products and provide free products in schools, as seen in Mexico’s Dignified Menstruation Law.

In 2021, Lidl in Ireland began offering free menstrual products to those in need, following a report by the Irish Department of Health that highlighted the risk of menstrual poverty for approximately 85,000 individuals. Despite these efforts, prices for menstrual products like pads continue to remain high, underscoring the ongoing challenge of affordable access to essential hygiene products.

By Nadzeya Sankovich

Source: HealthNews

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