In this article /
Having a period is non-negotiable and safe and affordable care shouldn’t be a burden for anyone. Nearly two-thirds of low-income women in the US can’t afford menstrual hygiene products such as tampons or pads. And more than one in five women said they had this problem every month (Source: 1 (Jan 10, 2019). Period care products, also known as feminine “hygiene” products should be free.
Menstruators without access to safe and affordable period care resort to alternatives, like using bunched up toilet paper or socks. This can lead to urinary tract infections, toxic shock syndrome, and, with repeated use and lack of access to proper hygiene facilities, can be fatal.
We sat down with three organizations we work with that advocate for access to safe and affordable menstrual products; The Period Purse — a Toronto based organization, PERIOD. — a global, youth-fueled nonprofit, and No More Secrets — a grassroots sexuality awareness and consultative organization in the US. They’re all working to eradicate period poverty.
Alison Dowling: What is something you think people misunderstand about the community members you serve?
The Period Purse: The Period Purse started in 2017 working directly with people experiencing homelessness and now we really serve anyone that is living in poverty. Poverty can happen any time in our lives. We have learned that people impacted by poverty have all experienced period poverty, and that includes women, racialized people, Indigenous people, single mothers, and more. The Period Purse works with almost 200 organizations that serve people impacted by poverty.
PERIOD.: Often, there is a general misunderstanding of the scale of the lack of access to period products. And the ongoing nature of this problem. Period poverty is a deep crisis impacting millions of Americans who menstruate — nearly 1 in 4 students cannot afford pads or tampons!
Period poverty is a symptom of economic inequality and gender injustice. Despite cultural conversations about menstrual equity in the past few years, this is an almost entirely unaddressed crisis. Anywhere there is poverty, there is period poverty. Yet laws and education have not yet fully recognized the need for menstrual health management for over half our population.
Another major misunderstanding is that one large donation or distribution of products can fully address the needs of people who menstruate. Periods happen regularly every month. This isn’t a ‘one and done’ process. Menstrual cycles don’t stop, and neither should assistance.
No More Secrets: The biggest misconception is that all our community members are poor because they don’t work and that living with menstrual insecurities is a choice. Society is not addressing the overall systemic issues that prevent certain populations from living in dignity during their periods.
These false perceptions have a devastating and irrevocable impact on marginalized people. Unfortunately, there aren’t sufficient resources to help our communities. 90% of period poverty organizations currently “active” do not provide sanitary products directly to individuals or families suffering from menstrual insecurities.
AD: How does access to menstrual products affect other areas of people’s lives?
The Period Purse: When people don’t have access to menstrual products, they’re missing work, missing high school, and many miss out on social events. We know in Canada that 1 in 5 people can’t afford period products at one point in their lives. When they are missing out on important things, like work and school every month, it really sets them back. It becomes a gender equity gap!
PERIOD.: Too many people miss out on valuable school time due to lack of access to the period products they need. Lack of access presents another barrier to individuals’ ability to work, attend school, and participate in activities. There is also a direct correlation between mental health and menstrual product access.
No More Secrets: Access to free and safe period care products helps reduce health disparities and improves health outcomes in marginalized communities. Through the provision of both menstrual products and menstrual health education, we increase awareness about health disparities that continue to affect racial and ethnic minority populations. We uplift and encourage action in our communities by providing resources about early detection of menstrual disorders and the control of uterine disease complications.
AD: What is one thing that your organization is really proud of?
The Period Purse: We are really proud of our free period tracking app, called Menstruation Nation. It was developed and designed by youth because they didn’t have a period app for them (that wasn’t about fertility). But we are so proud of this too as it’s the first period tracking app that doesn’t collect data.
Plus, it’s free! You can download it now in the Apple store. And in Spring 2023, we will have an Android version come out. You have to check it out!
PERIOD.: We proudly center youth leaders in the fight for menstrual equity through stigma-busting education and systemic policy change. At the same time, we work with hundreds of grassroots organizations to combat the immediate need of period poverty through product distribution.
We seek to meet people where they are, providing a variety of reusable and disposable products to organizations directly distributing period products to communities in need. By equipping and training youth leaders in this fight to make products more affordable and accessible, we’ll solve period poverty in our lifetime.
No More Secrets: We have personally experienced the horrific effects of period poverty and are intentionally addressing gaps in menstrual health and wellness services across the United States.
We independently opened the SPOT Period, the nation’s 1st Menstrual Hub and Uterine Wellness Center and the SPOT on the GO, the world’s 1st Mobile Menstrual Health Clinic through crowdfunding campaigns to offer direct support to vulnerable populations in crisis with menstrual products.
Since opening our doors and launching our mobile clinic, we have distributed over 6,000,000 free menstrual products to combat period poverty. Even though the SPOT is located in Pennsylvania, an astounding 39% of our products are shipped to desperate families throughout the nation.
Use the above links to get involved and help support these incredible organizations!
And check out Women's Voices Now presents The Bloody Truth: A Look into Period Poverty.
Our Senior Impact Manager, Carly Friesen, was interviewed to take part in their discussion around period poverty.
Girls’ Voices Now is a youth development program. It works to empower the next generations in under-resourced communities to develop and use their voice for social change. They learn the skills of filmmaking and put together The Bloody Truth: A Look into Period Poverty. Help us in supporting Women’s Voices Now by sharing their message on social platforms and amongst your family and friends.