This post was originally published on Seattle Medium
By Aaron Allen
Imagine missing 30 days of school over the course of the year because you could not afford or lacked access to feminine products. Locally and around the world young women living below the poverty line, residing in underdeveloped countries or who are homeless do not have access to the necessary resources that women need during their menstrual cycle.
“Women all over the world suffer from period poverty,” says LueRachelle Brim-Atkins, co- chair of the Seattle Limbe Sister City Association, a nonprofit organization that produces reusable feminine care products and provides women and girls around globe with these products. “What that means is that when they have their menstrual cycle, they do not have the products they need to continue life as normal. So, if they are students and they don’t have products they can miss school. Women who are working and don’t have products can miss work.”
The Seattle Limbe Sister City Association, co-chaired by Brim-Atkins and Alfreda Lanier, has two sister cities in Africa — Limbe, Cameroon and Mombasa, Kenya where they are putting forth their energies to bring awareness and solutions to the issue of period poverty.
“Our emphasis is on school girls because what we learned while in Kenya is that girls often drop out of school because they are missing 3-4 days a month and multiply that over the school year, so they miss as much as a month of school a year and that puts them behind,” says Brim-Atkins. “And the further behind they get, they decide to drop out. And in many cultures once a student drops out, they are considered marriageable.”
Period poverty is the public health crisis we don’t talk about, and Brim-Atkins and Lanier look to change that.
With 1 in 5 girls missing school due to lack of menstrual products, period poverty is an important, yet often ignored public health crisis. Period poverty refers to the prevalent phenomena of being unable to afford products such as tampons, liners to manage menstrual bleeding and pads. In lieu of sanitary products many women are forced to use items like rags, paper towels, toilet paper or cardboard. In underdeveloped countries like Africa, women and girls have been known to use leaves and anything else they can find to manage menstrual bleeding.
“The very first time we were in classrooms in Africa and were able to talk to girls and asked them what they did during their cycle,” recalls Lanier. “We heard everything from using old rags, they might use corn silk, they might use leaves, and this was the craziest, they might use rocks. Imagine that, using rocks to absorb the menstrual blood, I couldn’t imagine, but you use what is available to you.”
Period poverty encompasses not only this lack of access to products but also inadequate access to toilets, handwashing receptacles and hygienic waste management.
In response to what they had discovered while in Kenya, Brim-Atkins and Lanier connected with DaysforGirls, an organization that trains people on how to make reusable, washable, and sustainable menstrual kits, after the got back to the United States.
Since that time, the Limbe Sister City Association began making and distributing the kits to women and young girls so that they can stay in school and go to work.
“When we consider that most women in the United States manage their periods with disposable products that’s not always accessible, they are not cheap to begin with,” says Lanier. “When you consider school and prison populations, the homeless and how much access they have and that’s one of things we talk about having a reusable kit that lifts that burden of having to purchase products every month.”
As much as the Seattle Limbe Sister City Association is diligently working to supply those in need, they also see the struggle in consistent availability.
According to Lanier, the reason this public health crisis has yet to be addressed is largely due to stigmas that associate menstruation with uncleanliness and disgust instead of recognizing it as biologically healthy and normal.
The shame associated with periods hampers people from discussing its importance, which in turn averts dialogues about access to products. More importantly men need to learn more about this because they are fathers, husbands and it affects them as well.
“Every woman at some point in her life is going to go through menstruation,” says Lanier. “And that lasts a good number of years in her life. And so, girls from the ages as early as nine years old are faced with that. Even here locally, we see that where low-income families do not have access to resources, good jobs, education, and even access to products, or the knowledge of knowing how to manage a menstrual cycle. We have to overcome some of those conversations and not make it taboo.”
Brim-Atkins agrees and says we can make a difference when people are more aware of the problem.
“I think we need to make this a discussable topic,” says Brim-Atkins. “We need to discuss it from the perspective that this is a normal, natural occurrence that needs to be addressed, so that no woman, no girl has to do without products and so if we just approach it as natural and normal, we need to make sure that every woman has resources and then we need to brainstorm how do we make that happen.”
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