Periods. Tampons. Pads. Menstrual cups, Period Panties, Toxic Shock Syndrome. If you had asked me two years ago whether I had given any of this much thought, let alone done interviews and wrote about it extensively I would have laughed. Why in the WORLD would I talk such personal things? And then I got sick. During my recovery, I went on a quest for information. I needed facts. I needed to understand what had happened to me and why. I read my discharge papers the day I came home. I searched and searched for answers. I needed to find meaning. I needed to give my experience a purpose. Without a purpose, it would have been too easy to fall into a depressing thought process of, “Why me? Why was I so unlucky? What did I do to deserve this?” There was another question that will haunt me for the rest of my life. Why did I survive when others do not?
All my research did it’s job. It gave me my purpose. Education, advocacy, helping survivors. The Begin Again Foundation was born. Our initial goal was clear- provide financial assistance to families facing hardship due to medical crises. This blog served as my platform for education and awareness. I am very proud of the work we have done in the one year we have been serving communities. We have helped 27 sepsis survivors, 1 ARDS survivor, over 500 families at CHKD, and four families facing rare childhood cancers through the Leila Rose Foundation. But something was missing. What were we doing for periods? I can tell women to only use 100% organic tampons, or better yet find other alternatives completely. But what about the women who don’t have these options? I started doing research. Did you know that menstrual products are the number one need of homeless women? And then I thought if they do get their hands on a tampon, how long will they leave it in? When faced with leaving a tampon in too long or rolled up toilet paper or socks what would they do? Actually, I don’t want an answer to that question because none of them seem like options to me. At least not options I can live with. I started doing more research and came across the most amazing program: PERIOD.
Please read this from their founder, Nadya Okamoto (who, by the way, is 19 years old and a Harvard student! #goals)
When it comes to global development, in working to advance families and break the cycle of poverty, women’s empowerment is the key—and a major obstacle that stands in the way of bringing all women to the forefront is the taboo surrounding the topic of menstruation.
Women’s empowerment and feminism are hot topics right now, especially when it comes to creating more educational equity on a global scale. However, no matter how many opportunities we create, women and girls will not be able to take full advantage of those opportunities if menstrual hygiene is not addressed. Periods are the number one reason why girls miss school in developing countries (Femme International) In Kenya, girls miss an average of 4.9 days of school each month because of a lack of access to adequate menstrual hygiene. In rural Uganda, girls miss up to the 8 days of school each term. That is almost a full week of class. 25% of one’s school month. Think about that…because of periods, girls are missing almost a whole quarter of their classes.
In many countries, periods can be scary for what menstruation symbolizes—the transition from being a child to a woman, ready to be a wife and mother. In some other countries, as I have learned, getting your period can be the signifying event that prompts female genital mutilation, child marriage, and dropping out of school.
Inadequate menstrual hygiene management also has negative mental and physical consequences. In India, 70% of reproductive diseases are caused by poor menstrual hygiene, and the effects can go so far as to affect maternal mortality. Unclean methods of maintaining menstrual hygiene caused by a lack of resources, or lack of education on the usage of products, can lead to infections ranging from skin irritation to the something more fatal, like toxic shock syndrome. Poor menstrual hygiene management may also cause strange bodily odors and bleeding through one’s clothes, which causes women and girls to feel nervous and self-conscious when on their period.
This taboo around menstruation causes people to associate periods with weakness. A week in their month where girls feel emotionally on edge, in pain with cramps, confused about new food cravings, and worried about bleeding through their clothes. I myself, before coming to the realization of how human and real it is as a woman to experience periods, identified my time of the month as a weakness point.
Women (more so, all humans) deserve to feel confident and ready to reach their full potential, regardless of a natural need. Thus, the stigma surrounding the topic of menstruation is an obstacle standing in the way of that natural right to reach one’s full potential. We all need to become advocates for natural needs. In the US, only about 20% of our government positions are held by women, and if that 80% who are men are afraid to talk about menstruation, women and girls all around the world will continue to feel silenced and less capable on their periods. The menstrual movement is a universal movement, and it starts now, with all of us—boys, girls, men, women—let’s all give power to the period starting right now!
My passion for menstrual hygiene formed during my family’s experience with homelessness during my freshman to sophomore year of high school (I am now 19-years-old), and through conversations with homeless women I met. In the spring of my sophomore year of high school, when my family saved up enough for us to move back into our two-bedroom apartment in Portland, I founded PERIOD. What started as a personal project to use savings to buy and hand out menstrual hygiene products on my way to school, with the help of an amazing and driven youth team of peers, is now an exponentially growing organization.
PERIOD is a global youth-run nonprofit that strives to provide and celebrate menstrual hygiene through advocacy, education and service—-through the global distribution of menstrual hygiene products and engagement of youth leadership through a nationwide network of campus chapters. In the last two years, we have addressed over 78,000 periods through 43 nonprofit partners in 27 states and 14 countries, and we have 65 campus chapters and universities and high schools around the United States.
PERIOD helps women to feel dignified and clean during their periods by giving them menstrual hygiene products. We also strive to develop youth engagement through our campus chapters. The women that we serve are low income or homeless, and generally, would not spend the little money they have on menstrual hygiene. Our services thereby give these women the materials to take care of their natural needs which they otherwise would lack easy access to. Psychologically, having control over one’s own body is a step towards self-confidence and feeling in control of one’s life. This ability to care for their natural needs is an early step in helping women get off of the street or bounce back from a difficult situation. Additionally, most reproductive diseases are caused by poor menstrual hygiene. By distributing menstrual hygiene products, we help women stay healthier. We are always striving to find sustainable solutions, trying to secure reusable products like menstrual cups and fabric pads. PERIOD empowers women and youth voices, period.
We are so excited to be working with the Begin Again Foundation to work towards menstrual equity and provide menstrual products to people with periods in need, to individuals in Virginia Beach.
Do you think that lack of access to menstrual products is a women’s problem? It’s not. I promise you that when I was laying in the hospital my father, brothers, husband and two young sons were not worried about it being a “woman’s problem.” They cared that their daughter, sister, wife and mother was almost dying. They also cared that with the proper knowledge I may never have been in that bed in the first place. I am currently celebrating my two year survival anniversary at the Masters. How lucky am I? How do I honor the ones who weren’t as lucky? The answer will always be this: we give back. The Begin Again Foundation is so excited to start addressing the periods of Virginia Beach homeless women. Our period packs will include 15 100% cotton pads, 5 100% cotton overnight pads, and pantyliners. When we were deciding what products to provide in our packs we decided that quality over quantity was essential. As with all of our programs we hope that providing these products can make their lives just a little easier for at least one week a month.
$8 per month provides safe feminine hygiene products for one woman experiencing homelessness in Virginia Beach. If you are called to help #onemore woman BE HEATHY, Period, then please donate here!