What is Period Poverty and How Can You Help?
Hello! My name is Ellie Heasman and I am the founder of the blog The Better Period. The Better Period is all about helping menstruators around the world to have a better period experience as well as sparking conversation about all things period related. A few weeks ago I commented on a post in a Facebook group that PhillyCouponMom and I both belong to and in this comment, I mentioned ‘period poverty’. PhillyCouponMom saw my comment and reached out to me because she had never heard about the issue of period poverty and wanted to know how she and her readers could help those in need to get access to period products. I was thrilled to be able to write this article to spread awareness about period poverty and share with you how you can provide much-needed help.
What is period poverty?
Period poverty is a very real issue facing menstruators around the world, including the USA. A person experiencing period poverty is unable to afford access to basic items to manage their periods such as pads and tampons. As a result, they may be forced to resort to less desirable options to manage their period such as using a rolled up sock, a rag, wadded up toilet paper, a brown paper bag, newspaper, stealing the items they need, reusing dirty pads or even leaving a tampon in for days. All of these makeshift menstrual management methods can lead to increased risk of infection or toxic shock syndrome, not to mention discomfort at the very least.
Period Poverty in the USA
Anyone who menstruates deserves to manage their period with dignity and safe practices. No one should have to choose between putting food on their table or buying pads or tampons. And having your period should not get in the way of going to school or work or going about your day with dignity. But sadly, this is not the case for many people who have their period across the USA, not to mention the world. Across the USA there are people experiencing poverty and homelessness who can’t afford the period products they need. Luckily, there are some amazing organizations that are helping these people in need and YOU can help these organizations.
Organizations fighting period poverty
- PERIOD is a non-profit organization co-founded by teenagers Nadya Okamoto and Vincent Forand in 2014 after Nadya came to the realization, from her own experiences of housing and financial instability, that period products are not readily available to those who need them most. The pair have gone on to form a nationwide and international network of over 300 campus and community chapters that Serve, Educate and Advocate periods. While they are busy fighting to end period poverty nationally by campaigning for period products to be provided for free in all public school restrooms, their nationwide and international chapters are busy raising awareness, fundraising, collecting and distributing period products in their local communities. If you have period products to donate, you can do so by submitting via their website here or getting in touch with a chapter local to you.
- Feminine hygiene brand “Always” have teamed up with Feeding America in a campaign to #EndPeriodPoverty. During March 2019, Always will donate one-period product through the Feeding America network of food banks, for every Always Pads or Always Tampax Tampons product purchased at participating retailers (Albertsons, BJs, Dollar General, Food Lion, Hannaford, H-E-B, Meijer, Sam’s Club). You can, therefore, make a difference until 31st March by buying your period products through one of these retailers, knowing that Always will be donating products as a result of your purchase.
- #HappyPeriod was founded by Chelsea VonChaz and her mother in 2015 after Chelsea witnessed a homeless woman crossing the street wearing bloodstained undergarments. It sparked in her the question of “how do homeless women manage their period?” After undertaking some research, Chelsea found that pads and tampons are rarely donated to homeless shelters and shelters are not required to allocate any of their operating budgets to these items. So she got together a group of friends to buy and distribute period products in the Skidrow area of Downtown LA. After that, a movement began. #HappyPeriod has since formed chapters across the US including New York City, Atlanta, Miami, San Diego, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. You can help #HappyPeriod continue their awesome work through donating products, money or shopping their Amazon wishlist. Visit their website to find out more.
- Dignity Matters is a Massachusetts based non-profit organization that collects and supplies period products and underwear to the homeless or otherwise in need so they can stay healthy and live with basic dignity. You can find out how to donate period products to Dignity Matters so they can continue the wonderful work they are doing. In 2017, Dignity Matters donated to over 50 homeless shelters, some of the poorest public schools and domestic violence programs in Massachusetts.
- I Support the Girls is a non-profit organization based out of Maryland that operates through an international network of affiliates to collect and distribute essential items such as bras, underwear and menstrual products to those who need them most. This includes anyone who may be homeless, a refugee, in transitional housing or fleeing domestic violence. Since beginning in 2015, I Support the Girls has collected and distributed 2.5 MILLION period products – wow! Visit their website to see what products they are seeking donations of and the locations where you can donate.
- Your local homeless shelter, women’s shelter or domestic violence program is another great place to start if you have period products you would like to donate. By finding your closest shelter and reaching out to them you can arrange to make your donation and help those in need in your local community.
I have listed above a very small example of organizations in the US that you can support in the fight against period poverty. The reality is, there are so many fantastic organizations making an impact in this space.
What about donations of reusable period products?
A lot of the period products that are being donated via the above organizations are mostly disposable period products like single-use pads and tampons. If you are familiar with reusable period products such as menstrual cups, period underwear or cloth pads, you may be wondering about the suitability of donating these products. Most of the above-noted organizations specifically mention they accept donations of menstrual cups but do not mention cloth pads or period underwear. If someone can not afford to buy period products on an ongoing basis, then a donation of a single menstrual cup that they can potentially reuse for up to 10 years sounds like a great alternative. Consideration does need to be given, however, to the suitability of these products for the situation of the recipient. Reusable period products need to be washed regularly which may not be suitable in some situations where the recipient does not have reliable access to washing facilities, or a clean and safe place to wash them. In a lot of circumstances though, reusable period products could be a great option. Prior to making your donation, it’s best to check with the organization you are donating to, in order to determine what they need most.
Want to learn more about period poverty?
If you’re interested in learning more about the issues of period poverty, menstrual equity and the menstrual movement you may like to read
Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement by PERIOD co-founder Nadya Okomato; or
Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity by lawyer and menstrual equity activist Jennifer Weiss-Wolf.
You may also consider signing the United for Access petition to get free period products into all schools across the nation.
Interested in how you could get a better period?
I’m passionate about helping everyone to get a better period and my favorite way to do so is through the use of reusable period products like menstrual cups and period underwear. If you think your period experience could be better or you’re interested to learn more about reusable period products please head over to my blog The Better Period.
If you would like to get in touch with me I would love to hear from you. Please email me at email@example.com
Thank you, Ellie, for your very informative Article!