That Time of the Month: Menstrual Equity (Pt. 1)
“Menstruous women shall bring forth monsters…” –King James Bible, Esdras 5:8
We’ve been going steady for a while now. You loved when I talked about valuing my alone time and had so many questions for my rant on fast fashion. Now, I think we’re ready for the next stage of our relationship.
I think it’s time we talked about menstrual equity. *record scratch* *glass breaks* *dogs bark and ambulances are heard in the distance*
Menstrual equity is defined as the amount of access to menstrual products someone has based on his/her socioeconomic status, religious background, or cultural beliefs.
I know that definition is a mouthful. Let’s take some real-world approaches. For the sake of this post, I’m going to direct everything into the 2nd person. So if you don’t personally get periods every month, just pretend like I’m talking about someone you know who does: your mom, your sister, or me (heyooo).
Where do you go when you need a tampon or pad? Your medicine cabinet?
With so many options, it’s never been a better time to have a time of the month. That is, if you can afford it.
But imagine if you couldn’t do any of those things for the following reasons:
You’re incarcerated: you have to pay for menstrual products through the commissary. Some months, you may have to choose between a call to your family and a set of generic, poorly made pads.
You’re religious: your beliefs dictate that you must spend the entirety of your period in banishment, away from others and forced to live in a small hut with almost no protection from the elements. (This is a real ritual practiced in parts of Nepal, known as chaupadi.)
You’re homeless: every month, you risk soiling what might be your only clothes if you are unprepared for your period.
You’re trans: Not all people who have periods are female. And if we learned anything from the bathroom bill(s), it’s that public restrooms are already the worst.
Raise your hand if you’ve already learned something you didn’t previously know about people who have periods (*hand emoji*).
Same here. In fact, until I read Jennifer Weiss-Wolf’s Periods Gone Public in November 2017, I hadn’t really thought about periods other than my own. But in every single society on earth, problems like these affect people everyday. Imagine dealing with these stigmas, insecurities, and sacrifices each month—on top of the physical toll periods take on you.
In this first post of my new Time of the Month series, I want to introduce you to the definition of menstrual equity and talk about how I addressed it in a small but meaningful way.
Before I get to that, I'll share two more stories with you about the severe disparities in access to products and education in other parts of the world. It makes me feel sick to my stomach to type these but they are so important to share.
In India, only 12% of the menstruating population uses any sort of product at all. That’s out of 335 MILLION menstruators. You do the math (no, really, you do the math because I hate numbers.) So what do they use instead? According to Periods Gone Public: “leaves, paper scraps, or mattress stuffing to absorb menstrual blood.” Not effective and, more importantly, not hygienic in the least. But what else are you to do when you live in an area too rural to obtain products, or too deeply in poverty to be able to afford them?
Using your period to get out of gym class is one thing, but imagine if you had to miss multiple days of school each month simply because your school only had one toilet (that may or may not even work)? Or because your teachers discouraged you from disposing of pads in the communal garbage bins as they believe it will “contaminate the trash and cause illness, like cancer…”?
That’s too often the case for many schools in places like Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, and Bolivia.
Having your period requires more than just having access to quality products. You need privacy to change those products, clean water to wash your hands, and a place to properly dispose of used products. And when girls miss school because they do not have access to those things, they fall behind. They don’t pass exams and they are stuck, unable to take full advantage of the opportunities that come with education.
SO WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO?
I was devastated when I first read about girls in other parts of the world. In the next two years, I am hoping to travel to one or more of those places to learn more about this issue and do whatever is necessary to help. But before that time comes, I wondered what I could do in my own community to make a small but meaningful difference. That’s when I thought about a Period Party.
Menstrual product collections certainly aren’t new but I wanted to create a lighthearted way to discuss a very serious topic.
So, in November 2017, ten friends gathered in my apartment with donated menstrual items to help assemble care packages for homeless women in Atlanta. In total, we donated 68 (!!!) care packages—each containing one menstrual cycle’s worth of products—to City of Refuge and Atlanta Mission.
Our snack game was also on point: my mom dipped pretzel sticks in white chocolate to look like “tampons” and my friend Sarah Grace made “boob cupcakes" (cream frosting with pink, circular frosting for the “nipples”). We take our food puns very seriously around here.
We didn’t save the world, but I like to think we helped a few people when they may have needed it most. I’m hoping to host my next Period Party in March; if you’re in the Atlanta area and would like to attend, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Whew. This was a lot longer than I anticipated, but I hope you learned a little something! In the next installment of That Time of the Month, I’ll be sharing a little more on the legislative history (or lack thereof) for menstrual equity and what we can do about it.
If you liked this post, please let me know your thoughts below as a comment! In the wake of the Women's March this past weekend, I was reminded of my favorite Gloria Steinem quote: "The future depends entirely on what each of us does every day; a movement is only people moving."
What will you do to get moving?