The Period Project: Working Toward Menstrual Health Equity
Increasing access to menstrual hygiene products (MHPs) should not be a topic of debate. Each year, people in the United States spend more than $2 billion on MHPs. Often, the price paid for these MHPs comes along with a luxury tax or a sales tax placed on products categorized as non-essential or unneeded. As a result, these “tampon taxes” produce millions in extra revenue for participating state governments. Considering that half of the US population will menstruate at some point in their lives, it seems that both corporate America and state governments alike are profiting off of the menstrual experience. Thus, the question lies: Why is it okay for these entities to make money off of bleeding bodies?
The answer lies in the taboo nature of menstrual hygiene conversations. Here and worldwide, society teaches that period matters are “dirty” and “gross,” which perpetuates many unfounded myths and confines menstrual health discussions to the private sphere. Therefore, although menstruating individuals have extremely high purchasing power, the power to publicly challenge these entities profiting off of them seems nonexistent. Furthermore, this perceived power is even less among marginalized populations who might not have high purchasing power, such as low-income families, homeless women, and incarcerated individuals.
The Period Project at the School of Public Health formed at the end of last semester with a mission of achieving menstrual equity on campus and beyond. The Period Project sees access to MHPs as a human right. Menstrual products are hygiene products just like toilet paper, soap, and paper towels. If individuals in the US had to bring their own toilet paper and soap to public restrooms, there would be public uproar. Unfortunately, these free hygiene products provided in public restrooms do not cover all bodily functions. And for the majority of menstruating people, bleeding is not an optional bodily function. Therefore, products that are part of the menstrual process should be provided for free in the same manner as the other hygiene products commonly found in public restrooms.
The School of Public Health is uniquely situated within the scope of the Period Project’s work because 82 percent of the student body identifies as female. While assigned sex and gender identity are not linked intrinsically to menstruation, this statistic suggests that a large portion of the student body likely experiences (or has experienced) periods. In other words, the demographic breakdown indicates that the magnitude of burden might be increasingly higher among most students at our school.
To verify this hypothesis, the Period Project released a Menstrual Hygiene Management Survey in early March to assess student needs and current practices related to menstruation, specifically on the Medical Campus. This baseline data will be used to evaluate the impact of the free menstrual products pilot program that will launch the first week after spring break. The pilot program will stock eight restrooms located within the Talbot Building with free MHPs for students, faculty, and staff to use. The pilot program aims to provide these resources for students while showing that menstrual health is something that cannot be ignored.
The Period Project is also working to expand access to MHPs beyond the Medical Campus by collaborating with homeless shelters around the school. As recipients of an Activist Bucks Innovation Grant, the members of the Period Project will begin “Monthly Flow Drives” to gather menstrual products to donate to these shelters. These donations are crucial, as local shelters are always in need of MHPs. The Period Project would also like to highlight the importance of sustainability by finding MHPs that go beyond single use and by hosting focus groups among shelter residents to determine if they would be interested in such products. The goal of this program is to support healthy and worry-free periods among all people, whether they are students at SPH or community members experiencing housing instability.
The Period Project does this work because we acknowledge that there is not a one-size-fits-all menstrual experience. This is why all menstruating individuals should have equitable access to a broad array of hygiene products to support them throughout their journey.
Caroline Ezekwesili, Kimberly Blair, Ebosetale Eromosele, Hannah Simon, Hithu Kodicherla, and Makeda Negash-Alemnesh are first-year MPH candidates and co-founders of the Period Project.