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Image Source: Shaunte GloverIn 2017, Demetra Presley founded Go With the Flow, which provides “periodic packs” to students in need.
Recurring poverty around the world is no secret – Global Citizen reports that one in five students in India drop out of school altogether after starting their period, often due to lack of access to sanitation supplies. But period poverty is also a crisis in the United States. According to a survey conducted by the company Always, one in three parents is worried about their ability to continue to pay for menstrual products, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet only four states require public schools to provide period products to students – a shortcoming that can have a huge impact on their education. In one study, nearly 18 percent of menstruating women said that not having access to menstrual hygiene products during high school hampered their ability to learn, for a number of reasons – because they were late for class, had to leave school prematurely, or skipped school altogether. , for example.
In one study, nearly 18 percent of menstruating women said that not having access to menstrual hygiene products during high school hampered their ability to learn.
After learning about the issues students faced – often skipping classes, making makeshift napkins or tampons from unsanitary materials, or getting supplies from teachers who paid for the produce out of their own pockets – Demetra Presley turned to felt called to act. In 2017, she founded Go With The Flow, an organization that provides “menstrual packs” filled with menstrual products to elementary and high school students in need, primarily in the school districts of Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona. “It’s not just about a student who can’t go to school or miss a class – it’s a student who isn’t focused on their education,” Presley told POPSUGAR. “They should be able to participate in the dialogues and discussions in class, and should be able to have all of these things available to you when you are in school, without being distracted by something natural and normal.”
That’s why lawmakers and activists are working not only to improve access to period supplies in educational institutions, but to change the conversation about the need and normality of menstrual hygiene.
Image source: Go with the flowGo With the Flow hands out vintage products to low-income Arizona college students in a cute, understated makeup bag.
The fight for better access to period products in schools
New York was, in a way, the pioneer of period equity in schools. The city rolled out a program that provided pads and tampons to a few schools in 2016 – and later, to every school in the city. The National Education Association reports that this movement to provide free menstrual products to students resulted in a 2.4 percent increase in menstruation attendance at the high school that piloted the program in the first six months.
California was the first state to pass a law requiring schools to stock up on pads and tampons for students in grades six to twelve. Illinois followed, along with New York and, more recently, New Hampshire. Forty-six states are still a long way from New York City’s progress, but elected officials have introduced menstrual hygiene into education bills in a number of state legislatures, including Virginia, the Massachusetts, Maryland, Washington, Oregon, Missouri, Florida, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Colorado.
These laws tend to vary in scope, but most of the laws that have been passed are aimed primarily at middle and high school students. This does not eliminate the period of poverty crisis among elementary-aged students, who may already be menstruating – the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says menstruation typically begins around age 12 in the United States. United, but they can occur earlier, especially in black and latinx populations. Lawmakers should take older elementary school students into account when drafting bills, to ensure elementary school toilets are stocked with period products for students who may not feel empowered to defend themselves. themselves on this issue.
The other segment of the population that has not been taken into account in the menstrual equity bills are students. Whether a college or university is public or private, there is no legal obligation for them to provide vintage products to their students. And in many cases, these products are not only do not free but heavily taxed on campus.
Image Source: Sending Her Essentials via St. John’s UniversityStudents Alexandria Ligon and Magdèlene Barjolo receive seed funding for their non-profit organization, Sending Her Essentials.
Alexandria Ligon and Magdèlene Barjolo founded their nonprofit menstrual equity and education organization, Sending Her Essentials (SHE), while they were students at St. John’s University. It all started with a product drive for a New York women’s shelter; they then entered and won a business pitch competition in St. John’s for seed funding. But the co-founders told POPSUGAR epoch inequity was a problem on their own campus. The toilets had broken or unstored sanitary ware, and the school bookstore sold overpriced tampons and towels. At the very least, laws should be passed to make free products available in every toilet on college campuses, without expecting students to wear quarters or rely on often obsolete machines whenever they need to. of a tampon.
But as simple as it may sound to simply stock school toilets with tampons and napkins the same way they are filled with toilet paper, there are barriers to achieving this goal. Getting school board funding for something as important as menstrual hygiene has been the biggest challenge – and one of the reasons the work of Sending Her Essentials and Go With The Flow is so essential. Presley explained that this becomes even more of a problem in underfunded school districts, putting low-income students at a further disadvantage in their education. In Arizona schools, there is a major funding disparity that is rooted in racism – NPR reports that the most economically disadvantaged school districts, many of which primarily include black, brown and other uneducated students. white people receive less than half of the funding of low-income people. white quarters.
Presley’s work ensures that students – especially those attending Title 1 public schools with a high percentage of low-income students from elementary to high school – have the security of access to all the products they need. throughout their cycle, in a nice, discreet makeup bag that can be picked up from a designated area of the school, such as a nurse or social worker office. So many students are so dependent on schools, including health necessities and meals, and it has become more evident and urgent than ever during the coronavirus pandemic.
Why menstrual hygiene needs to be a bigger conversation
Menstruation has always been a taboo – another reason it is so important to care for students who experience it. “It’s a very stigmatized issue; people still don’t feel comfortable talking about it in a public place, or even buying tampons in a store,” Presley said. Then, because these products are not available in school, it is the responsibility of middle school or even elementary school students to discuss their body changes with a school official in order to meet their needs. “It’s ingrained in our culture as something we should be embarrassed about and ashamed of,” Presley said.
“[Menstruation is] ingrained in our culture as something we should be embarrassed about and ashamed of, ”Presley said.
This is one of the reasons why the founders of SHE seek to create a dialogue about menstruation through their education and awareness programs for students, which they hope to eventually introduce worldwide in countries like Liberia, where Barjolo’s family is from. “The stigma behind periods is part of the problem, so providing tampons and pads does not give them an ultimate solution,” Barjolo told POPSUGAR. SHE’s wellness workshops, which the founders made virtual during the pandemic, serve as safe spaces to discuss menstrual cycles, as well as other important health topics, like mental health for black women.
“Initially, we focused more on the distribution of products, [but] we realized that if we did this it wouldn’t be sustainable. We then moved on to advocacy and creating spaces for discussion to use what we have to still have an impact in the community, ”Ligon said. And it’s true – until we dismantle this stigma surrounding menstruation and the necessities used to manage it, the change will continue to happen to not just menstruating women, but their educators and mentors, too. ensure that students have access to everything they need to continue their education.