When Sophie Draluck read about Ugandan schoolgirls missing school because they lacked access to period products, she got upset and began researching. She learned that the consequences of lacking menstrual products are much more far-reaching than she previously thought.
“I found that period poverty, or the lack of access to period products ... it’s everywhere.”
Everywhere included Highland Park, Illinois, her hometown. Realizing that her neighbors and schoolmates could be experiencing period poverty, she reached out to the local food pantry to find out whether tampons and pads were needed. Those products, she was told, were among the most highly requested, but the least donated. She then learned other pantries nearby were also in need of menstrual products. So began Cycle Forward, Sophie’s nonprofit dedicated to combating period poverty by donating menstrual products to local organizations for distribution.
Like Sophie, Brooke and Breanna Bennett had a similar realization about period poverty in their hometown. In July 2019, for their 12th birthday, the twins asked not for presents but for donations to raise money to buy period products in their city of Montgomery, Alabama. They were inspired by their mother, who worked at an all-girls’ school. She would tell them how widespread it was for the girls to use things like socks and toilet paper because they could not afford period products.
With that initiative, Women in Training was born. Over a year later, the twins, now 13 years-old, donate about 300 products per month in Alabama cities, and State Representative Rolanda Hollis even proposed a bill that will allow those who qualify for free lunch to get free products at school.
“One in five girls experience period poverty,” says Breanna. “I would say, especially here in Alabama, our public schools systems are really bad. A lot of them don’t give out the supplies needed to these girls for free. [They charge] $8.00 a pack. And that’s what we want to change.”
According to the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Nursing, two-thirds of low-income women were unable to purchase period products in previous years, while one-fifth struggle to buy these products each month. There is also the “tampon tax” in which 35 states tax menstrual items at a mean of 7.41%. Those using government assistance cannot purchase tampons, pads or other items under the rules of the program.
Anisha Abraham, a high school senior in Palm Harbor, Florida was appalled when she read a Thinx survey that reported that 80% of girls knew or have known someone who missed school because of period poverty.
“I didn’t just find it unfortunate,” she says. “I found it unacceptable.”
Anisha began to look into the barriers, including the tampon tax and SNAP benefits. She also began to see how such conditions set people up to be less considerate of menstrual hygiene and health — for example, her aunt died from uterine cancer that he family feels wasn’t detected early enough because pain is normalized for those who menstruate.
With that, Anisha created Pink Power Project this past June, and has donated more than a thousand products to three local nonprofits in her county. She also blogs about menstruation to de-stigmatize the biological process.
“It’s not just about handing out things,” she explains. “It’s more about supporting women and empowering them in not feeling shame and indignity in not having access to menstrual products, and not feeling comfortable with their whole body.”
Despite their successes, these young women have faced some difficulties, particularly when it comes to some people still seeing menstruation as taboo.
"[Some] older women are uncomfortable with the word ‘period,’ and wish we would use polite euphemisms like ’the particulars of a woman,’ or “‘that special time,’ or even ‘menstruation,’ says Breanna.
Although Anisha had the support of her friends and family, she hesitated putting herself out there at first.
“I feared being labeled ‘the period girl’ in my social circles, especially because I knew there was a lot of stigma surrounding menstruation, women’s health, and period poverty,” she says.
This has taught Anisha not to worry about what others think because the taboo of menstruation makes it harder to fight against period poverty.
With all the experiences these girls have gone through, what do they have to say to other girls who want to help their community, particularly with period poverty?
“If you want to do something for your community,” says Brooke. “then go ahead and do it, because it will really benefit other people.”
Sophie says it is alright to start small, and to find someone who can guide you.”
“Consider finding a mentor,” she says.”If they can help you get into the right mind frame to do this kind of work. Work on establishing a team, establishing partnerships — they can possibly direct you to new ones.”
Breanna says a little effort is all that is needed.
“Even if you’re posting a social media post,” she says. “Or talking to other people about it, and seeing what you guys can do as a community. Us girls just need to come together and solve period poverty.”
How to Help:
Once you have the idea and the gumption, you too can help people gain access to menstrual products. There are a few practicalities you’ll need to consider when starting a period poverty organization. Anisha says the best way to get started is through social media.
“Create a brand that goes along with your group or organization,” she says. “Pick a title, pick an Instagram handle, have channels of communications that people can use to reach you.”
As your work grows, you might consider turning your efforts into a 501c3 charitable organization.
“I would say the real benefit from that is the tax exemption which will reach larger donors,” Sophie says, explaining some larger donors would lose interest because they would not receive tax exemptions. “We really didn’t want to miss out on those opportunities, so we thought it would be in the best interest for Cycle Forward to seek that status.”
However, establishing a nonprofit is not a must to help combat period poverty. Even running a drive at school or partnering with a local food pantry is a way to get started, Sophie says.