The topic of menstruation is often reserved for conversations with close friends and family or a witty banter in a coming-of-age film. In 2014, PERIOD, a global non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness of period poverty and the stigma surrounding menstruation, was born.
Since then, the youth-powered movement has distributed products to address more than 1 million periods and formed 800 PERIOD chapters across the United States and in 40+ countries.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the organization continues to thrive and work around the clock to provide feminine care products to marginalized communities who are most affected.
“We send out three types of period products and waive all shipping costs,” said Eira Nylander Torallas, PERIOD’s National Chapter Manager. “We send every single piece of product we get. It comes in the door and goes out within a few days. We also expanded our distribution and now have a distribution center in Tennessee which is going to aid us in shipping out products across the country.”
Menstruators affected by period poverty lack access to affordable period products necessary to alleviate pain and maintain menstrual hygiene. Throughout the pandemic, PERIOD serviced various communities across the country. The period movement distributes three products to assist women in need: tampons and pads, period packs, and menstrual cups. Period Packs consist of nine tampons and six pads, which will serve women for one menstrual cycle.
“In June, PERIOD went through a very busy time as we started a complete restructuring of the organization,” said Torallas. “We changed a lot of our programming to be more inclusive and more adaptable to the current times. We are doing a lot of racial justice work and trying to figure out the different ways in which our organization can adapt.”
Crippling effects of the pandemic means suspended packing parties, period panels, and in-person fundraisers. Typically, local chapters do most of the distribution in their communities, but the national organization now has to conduct more outreach in small areas.
“Since COVID-19 hit, many chapters started moving their events and meetings online,” Torallas explains. “Some activists live in rural areas with very little access to the internet. Those chapters are having a hard time finding a way to connect with their chapter members and mobilizing. Our small but mighty team supports as many youth activists as possible [financially] and with products.”
In addition to ending period poverty, PERIOD’s goal is to eliminate the sales tax on feminine care products. Necessities such as toilet paper and hand soap are provided at no charge in public restrooms, yet feminine products are often not free or even available to purchase. For many homeless or low-income women in the United States, choosing the purchase of food or menstruation products every month is a norm. In a study conducted in the St. Louis area, 21% of women said they had to go without feminine hygiene products monthly because of the cost.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, one in four menstruators struggled to afford period management products. The pandemic caused many people to shop in bulk, which left shortages of menstrual products on store shelves.
Overall, because of period poverty, women may turn to alternatives, such as toilet paper or socks, to manage their menstrual needs. Unfortunately, this can cause toxic shock syndrome and other infections. With limited access to menstrual products to provide in marginalized communities, community-based period supply initiatives stretched their already limited resources to meet the needs of the clients they serve.
PERIOD and other menstruation organizations have modified their distribution and purchasing of their products. To reach more people, these organizations have partnered with testing sites and schools to make sure women and girls are getting the necessary products they need during this challenging time.
One issue surrounding additional funding and outside support for nonprofits like PERIOD is the stigma related to menstrual cycles. Through several initiatives, PERIOD educates and normalizes conversations about menstrual cycles around the world. They help change the way people think, talk, and learn about periods.
In 2019, PERIOD spearheaded the formation of National Period Day to raise awareness of period poverty and menstrual injustice. Last year 60 rallies supporting the menstrual movement were held across the U.S. and in four countries. It was the first U.S. event of its kind.
This year PERIOD hosted a virtual celebration with #PeriodActionDay or PAD for National Period Day in October. The event showcased the work of menstrual justice activists and provided attendees with resources to take action in their communities.
“We registered over 350 chapters since March,” said Torallas. “During the pandemic, we also started a microgrant program which provides youth activists with the opportunity to request funding for their work in the menstrual and period poverty space. These grants are up to $1000 each and our newly created youth council of twelve people evaluates all grant applications.”
This year has been rough for more reasons than one. Real activism means stepping up and adapting to the times. PERIOD’s countless initiatives, as a national organization and as hundreds of individual chapters, distributed over 5 million menstrual products to menstruators in need.
Although events have been paused or canceled, and there have been shortages of feminine products or resources, this year taught us all that we can’t stop or slow down because of the obstacles we face.
Young period activists continue to be empowered to serve their communities through the education and actions of PERIOD. Adaptability was very important this year because there is still much work to be done to bring awareness to period poverty and confidence and openness to conversations surrounding menstruation around the world.