Period poverty, our current day scourge
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word poverty. Grizzly images of malnourished people in countries that the West has conveniently tagged ‘the third world’.
Place that in close proximity to the word period and you have ‘period poverty’ which we think, clearly must not exist in the first world – certainly not in the UK or the US.
Is that factual you may wonder. Is it possible that such a thing could in fact exist in some of the wealthiest democracies in this world? Where feminism is a buzz word and women break glass ceilings every day, where women can aim to become movers and shakers – can period poverty still be a reality of life.
Sadly, it is so. ‘Period poverty’ is a term that has been coined to reference the lack of menstrual hygiene and toilet hygiene products and education – especially for those amongst us who are vulnerable.
Consider also the following:
Condoms, are distributed for free by the National Health Services (NHS) in the UK. Condoms don’t represent a necessity, they are products used in the context of consent and choice made by a person.
Rogaine is a hair growth formula. This product supports one’s vanity and represents a pursuit of perhaps a lost youth, but it certainly isn’t a necessity. Yet Rogaine isn’t taxed while period products are taxed in the US.
Thanks to young campaigners like Amica George in the UK and Nadya Okomoto in the US, the existence of this scourge is now coming to the fore, it is drawing the attention of the masses and legislators alike and the ask is a simple one really.
For governments to:
- Understand that menstrual/ hygiene products are a necessity not a luxury and to stop taxing them as if they were (ref: tampontax or pinktax)
- Supply those most vulnerable,
- women who are homeless,
- students in schools, Universities and Colleges,
- women undergoing treatment in hospitals,
- women in low income brackets,
- women in refugee camps within our borders
- (even those who have been incarcerated deserve the dignity of menstrual care)
with free period products.
It may sound at first like an expensive proposition until you consider other budgets the UK and the US governments are expending
The UK set aside a budget of £35 billion pounds for its Trident project, which is a nuclear missile programme.
The US set aside circa $38 billion for the defence of Israel over a 10 year period. In their latest budget request the sitting president has requested a whopping $750 billion, an eye watering sum by any estimation, to be allocated as budget for defense.
Surely, for less than a 1/20th of each of those budgets the objective we look to achieve may be easily fulfilled.
This feels like a very small step to take when one considers the alternative narrative, young girls missing school, falling behind their male counterparts, being unable to focus in class, all because of the dearth of products that she needs during her monthly cycle.
A young film director Charli Whatley (Insta: @c.s.whatley) directed a short film on women and their periods and made a very poignant statement in it. She muses:
‘we are so often ready to pin a badge of honour on a man who sheds blood in war, but are so reluctant to even accord the same respect for a woman who bleeds monthly for the very opportunity for man and woman alike to be born into this world. Instead, the blood women shed monthly is made taboo and written off as a stigma.’
We recently approached the young mover and shaker, Nadya Okamoto and her company PERIOD for comments in this regard and here is her very moving story.
Question 1: Nadya, the work that you, your co-founder and your team are undertaking is commendable. To put it in context, you are taking on many centuries of deeply steeped patriarchal rules, challenging them thoroughly to make way for a clean new slate to provide women with period products which are a need, not a luxury. Did you envisage taking on such a mighty challenge when you first started? What prompted you to take it on and how have you tackled obstacles that have come your way since your beginning a few years ago?
NADYA SAYS: I founded PERIOD when I was 16-years-old, as a junior in high school, after my family experienced living without a home of our own for several months. During this time, on my commute to school on the public bus, I had many conversations with homeless women in much worse living situations than I was in.
I was inspired to learn more about menstrual inequity and period poverty after collecting an anthology of stories of their using toilet paper, socks, brown paper grocery bags, cardboard, and more, to take care of something so natural.
Via google searches, I learned about the barrier that menstruation has for girls in school around the globe (they are the number one reason why girls miss school in developing countries), about the effects for disadvantaged menstruators here in the US, and the systemic barriers to proper menstrual health management.
It’s 2019, and yet, 34 US states still have a sales tax on period products because they are considered luxury items (unlike Rogaine and Viagra), period-related pain is a leading cause of absenteeism amongst girls in school, and periods are the number one reason why girls miss school in developing countries.
Over half of our global population menstruates for an average of 40 years of their life on a monthly basis, and has been doing so since the beginning of humankind. It’s about time we take action.
I never thought that when I founded this organization, it would grow into what it is today. Every step of the way, I was just thinking about how I could maximize my potential and the potential of what we were doing as an organization — I never expected it to get this big or have this sort of network.
Question 2: In embarking on your undertaking there is always a balance between living your life, earning an income and making the change you wish to see happen. Often a complete lack of remuneration discourages people from stepping outside the comfort of a 9-5 job to truly pursue their calling. For those engaged in similar pursuits of changing the norm, whether it be for climate change or female empowerment, what would be your advice? What are things one should consider before setting forth bravely to engender change?
You are strong, you are capable, and you are not alone!
No matter what you want to do, you just have to go for it! If there is something you want to do, do it! It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you’re doing or you don’t have the resources. You just have to be willing to ask questions and make mistakes.
There is a lot of learning, growing, and risk taking in starting something. I don’t think anyone is ever truly ready, no matter how prepared you think you are.
Just try to remember that everything is a process and you have to take the journey as it comes. Definitely take time to focus on your health and listen to your body! You have to make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating good food, and just taking time for self care!
Question 3: What is the magnitude of the change you hope to have achieved in the next 5 years and how can we as a brand support your endeavours?
For the next year, PERIOD’s strategic plan has included plans to empower young leaders in the Menstrual Movement, galvanize the movement, and fight for menstrual equity via period policy.
With our service goal of trying to empower our chapters to do more work in their local communities to distribute period products to people in need, we need to more powerfully motivate and communicate with them to do so (the best way to do this being through our digital channels).
To continue garnering support from brands and corporate sponsors (the largest opportunity for support being from femcare partners who are wanting to get support our service program) we need to keep growing our digital platform and presence, which is what they are looking to be featured in as an exchange for their product and monetary sponsorships.
With our educational programs, our strategic plan now includes a focus on digital content as a way to change the pattern of how people think, talk, and learn about periods. Our education goal is to redefine the culture around periods and get people to talk about them – and so we need to build a strategy and story behind how we do that, one way being through a stronger and more continuous media campaign.
Lastly, our fastest-growing pillar in the strategic plan is advocacy – which is where our policy efforts are outlined.
The two goals are raising awareness about period poverty at the national level with a unified effort to also mobilize chapters on the ground, and to fight period poverty in schools. As a brand, we need help starting the conversations about period poverty, growing our network, and also telling the world that MENSTRUAL HYGIENE IS NOT A PRIVILEGE, IT IS A RIGHT.
Our heartfelt thanks to Nadya and her team for their contributions.
For more information about how you can support PERIOD please visit:
It will be our endeavour to support Nadya and her team in their efforts too. In due course we will be starting a crowd funding campaign with the aim of raising funds to share LUXStore Period products for free with those women who need it most.
We will keep you updated of course and hope that you will support our efforts to support young heroes like Nadya.
She may not wear a cape;may only wear a smile as a mask against every obstacle in her path and may use her go-getter attitude as an armour, but to us at LUXStore she is the very embodiment of ‘Wonder Woman’.
We trust with this blog we have given you some food for thought. Until our next blog, we wish you the best of health! We hope you will celebrate your small victories and go forth fearlessly, because you matter. PERIOD.
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