Menstruation is a globally shared experience among all women. As a woman, I grew up in a fortunate situation; my mother and grandmother could explain to me what menstruation was, I could afford and access tampons, and I gained proper health education at school. While discussing this with friends, we all agreed that menstruation is not a subject most feel open to discussing and that period symptoms we have experienced have at times debilitated us, keeping us from going to school and doing other activities.
My experiences having the money and outlets to purchase feminine hygiene products and sanitary bathrooms have given me the opportunity to fully participate in sports and extracurricular activities and to attend school. These experiences taught me essential skills such as leadership and confidence, and I therefore speak out for women who do not have these possibilities.
Most of us can understand the stress of using our last tampon or not having one on hand. Imagine what it is like for women who experience this every day of every period. This is a reality across the globe for those who do not have access to feminine hygiene products. At least 500 million girls and women globally lack adequate facilities for managing their periods, according to a 2015 report from UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Local – National – International
There are 50,000 women living on the streets nationwide (The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). I am from New York City, where homelessness is especially prevalent and it has crossed my mind when I pass women and girls living on the streets – what do they do when they are on their period? In 2016, New York City became the first city in the U.S. to give women in public schools, prisons and homeless shelters access to free feminine hygiene products (Washington Post). Access to tampons becomes even more complicated in the developing world because it disrupts many girls’ ability to participate in school, potentially keeping them low-status.
Besides the issues of access, distribution and cost is the stigma surrounding menstruation. Menstrual health is a huge part of gender equality and it is also a globally stigmatized issue. The stigma around menstruation comes from both a lack of education and in some countries, cultural beliefs that imply menstruation is dirty and disgusting, a misogynistic mindset that invites ridicule. Women also experience harassment when they engage socially without access to proper menstrual materials. “In the United States, 26.4 million people can’t afford menstrual products. Across the world, an estimated 100 million young people lack access to adequate menstrual products. Without access to these products, many students miss school or drop out entirely during their period. In India, one in four students don’t come to school when they’re menstruating. Having a period shouldn’t have to cost a student their education” (Bustle).
An amazing resource for the cause on our own campus is PERIOD, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that celebrates and provides period products to those in need. With 150+ registered chapters at college campuses and highs schools across the U.S., the organization is united by the belief that menstrual care is a basic right. The organization was founded by Vincent Forand (current sophomore at Cornell’s Hotel School) and Nadya Okamoto (current Harvard sophomore) when they were high school students in 2014 after realizing that menstrual products are not reliably available to those who need them the most. After speaking with Vincent about his social entrepreneurial journey with PERIOD, he summarized the problem as, “If you don’t feel clean, that’s something that people don’t think about initially and therefore, no one talks about it and no one asks for it. Then no one’s serving it.”
I attended a talk in Willard Straight this March when Nadya visited campus. Although she is only a sophomore, she has already written a book with Simon & Schuster, run for local office, and been featured in Teen Vogue. Her journey with PERIOD is a personal one. When her mother lost her job and became legally homeless, Nadya met other homeless women in shelters who told her stories about using found materials for their period, and she heard about the Tampon Tax. She approached Vincent, who understood the business side of the project in order to start the company. PERIOD is looking for interns, as their HQ are opening around the country. Join Cornell’s chapter, collect period products for a drive, or organize events to break the stigma!
Please check out these other organizations supporting the cause:
1. Femme International (https://www.femmeinternational.org): provides kits with everything you would need during your time of the month for women in East Africa.
2. BeGirl (https://www.begirl.org): fillable pouches that are reusable and washable, sent to women in Uganda
3. ZanaAfrica (http://www.zanaafrica.com): provides school kits with feminine hygiene products for girls schools in Kenya
4. Days for Girls (https://www.daysforgirls.org/dfg-kits): menstrual care solutions, health education, and income-generation opportunities in 110+ countries on 6 continents
5. Cora (https://cora.life): a subscription service of tampons within the United States that partners with organizations in Kenya, India and the United States to donate tampons