OPINION: Tampon shortage is the next war on women, after baby formulas

Tampons are the latest item in scarcity due to global supply chain disruptions, giving women across the U.S. a hard time. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/PEXELS/POLINA ZIMMERMAN

The tampon shortage, flying under the radar in early June, looms large all over the U.S. due to global supply chain complications caused by the pandemic, according to a Bloomberg report.

Despite its direct impact on women all over the U.S., the shortage has not been dealt with in a serious and timely manner. Involving the public, not just women, in the conversation and stabilizing tampon prices are among the important moves to tackle the issue.

Global supply chain issues caused by the pandemic have led to the scarcity of various products, from medical supplies, toilet paper, baby formulas to the most recent tampon shortage, according to the New York Times research team.

Procter & Gamble, which controls nearly 50% of the U.S. tampon market, struggles in sourcing raw materials necessary for producing tampons. Transportation to and from production and retail locations also contributes to the issue, according to P&G’s latest earning calls.

The tampon shortage didn’t receive extensive news coverage until early June, despite emerging since April on forums such as DCUrban and Reddit. The mark-up in tampon prices on Amazon was also an early warning sign, yet was largely ignored, according to TIME magazine.

Infant formula witnessed the same trend, when warnings surfaced in November 2021. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was late to respond, however, only informing about measures to improve supplies by its May 2022 press release.

It was due to this delay in taking actions that the formula shortage is expected to last much longer, requiring shipments from abroad by the Biden administration. This mirrors the delayed reaction in response to menstrual products’ scarcity and will likely persist for longer.

The situation is more alarming, given that retailers monopolizing the feminine care market can’t put a pin to the severity of the issue or any specific timeline for actions. 

Tampax makers P&G went so far as to blame comedian Amy Schumer for the shortage of tampons in a TIME magazine interview after her successful commercial series for Tampax.

CVS and Walgreens confirmed low supply issues as per statements to NPR but couldn’t provide any data about out-of-stocks.

There is no argument to the fact that there is an unrelenting and urgent biological demand for menstrual products, which does not halt in times of scarcity. This might explain the condemnable price gouging tactic many businesses have allegedly assumed to take advantage of the situation.

P&G, for example, posted its biggest sales gain in decades this most recent quarter, with a 10% increase in profits gained from the feminine care division.

As of now, women can switch to alternative products, such as menstrual cups or period underwear, according to Good Housekeeping. The shortage offers women a chance to rethink the approach to their period. Other options should be explored to make sure they have something else to fall back on in times of scarcity.

Awareness campaigns to educate the public about menstrual hygiene would help spread understanding, attention and subsequently more widespread media coverage on these issues.

Talking about periods helps “demystify it” and give people, not just those with periods, a better sense of the costs and logistical challenges associated with this, suggested John Horton, an Emory University School of Medicine professor in a New York Times interview.

The exploitation of this emergency for financial gain by corporations must be widely condemned and avoided, as stated in the letter of U.S. senator Margaret W. Hassan to P&G chief executive officer.

“Access to menstrual products should be treated like every other essential good,” Hassan said. The cost of this shortage cannot fall on the backs of people who need these products the most.

Timely actions to stabilize prices and meet the demands as quickly as possible must be a priority for lawmakers and production companies. People can go without a new car or a nice Starbucks cup in times of a disrupted supply chain, but not tampons.