Women come together to bring attention to ‘period poverty’

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Princeon

Women and girls should have free access to feminine hygiene products in schools, homeless shelters and prisons. Period.

That’s the message that about 70 women and girls delivered at a rally on Hinds Plaza outside of the Princeton Public Library on Oct. 19.

They raised aloft posters that said “Arm schools with tampons, not guns” and “Menstrual hygiene is a right, not a privilege.” Many attendees wore T-shirts proclaiming “We are the Menstrual Movement.”

Sponsored by the Moorestown chapter of Period, it was one of hundreds of rallies held nationwide on Oct. 19 to bring attention to “period poverty” – the inability of many women and girls to afford to buy the tampons and pads they need for their monthly menstruation period.

Bridget Hoyt and Caitlyn Kelley, who are seniors at Notre Dame High School in Lawrence Township, said there is also a stigma attached to menstruation, and that nobody wants to talk about it.

“We need to beat the stigma,” said Kelley, who lives in Langhorne, Pa.

“I had to convince my dad to come to the rally. He sees it as a woman’s issue, but it’s a human issue. It is 100% important to bring this to people’s attention,”  Kelley said.

Hoyt agreed. She said it’s important to get rid of the stigma attached to the monthly menstruation cycle, and to provide access to tampons and pads for those who cannot afford them.

“It was shocking to me” that some girls miss school because they do not have access to feminine hygiene products, said Hoyt, who lives in Pennington.

“I hope to raise awareness around the stigma of periods and ‘period poverty.’ The best thing we can do is to help those without a voice who are facing problems the most,” she said.

The rally featured several speakers, including Annabelle Jin, who belongs to the Moorestown chapter and who was one of the event organizers.

“We have some huge strides to make,” Jin said. “We are rallying because we need to address the issue. There has never been such a coordinated effort is all 50 states to hold a rally on the same day.”

Hailey Parikh, a Rutgers University student who grew up in India and who now lives in Hillsborough Township, shared stories about the stigma that menstruation brings in her native country. The stigma runs across all classes, she said.

When a woman goes to the store and puts a box of “overpriced” feminine hygiene products on the counter next to the cash register, she shakes with shame, Parikh said. There is embarrassment about womanhood.

That embarrassment apparently extends to Princeton University, where women have successfully pushed to have free menstrual products placed in restrooms on campus, said Preeti Iyer. She is a senior and belongs to Princeton University’s Menstrual Products Task Force.

After almost three years of work and meetings with administrators who did not understand the need for free feminine hygiene products and who “were uncomfortable openly talking about menstruation,” the task force succeeded in providing products in the restrooms on campus this fall, Iyer said.

More than 300 Princeton University students have reached out to the task force, sharing stories of the program lifting the financial burden off their shoulders, Iyer said.

It gives them the necessary resources to live healthier lives and the ability to attend meetings or lectures without the need to run back to their dorms for products, she said.

“Changing the policies of long-standing institutions and fighting stigma along the way may seem daunting. But with persistent effort, it is possible,” Iyer said.

Speaker Gil Gordon drew chuckles from the attendees as he admitted that he was the “token old man” at the rally, before launching into his remarks. He is a member of the Princeton Period Project, which is an initiative of the Princeton Cornerstone Kitchen at the Princeton United Methodist Church.

The Princeton Period Project has distributed more than 60,000 feminine hygiene products, Gordon said, adding that he often gets strange looks from customers when he wheels a shopping cart full of tampons and pads up to the cash register.

“There is a great hidden problem in wealthy Princeton,” Gordon said of period poverty, or the financial inability to afford to buy women’s products.

“It comes down to a question of buying a six-pack of beer or a box of tampons. If this were a man’s issue and we were dealing with a shortage of condoms, you would see a bucket of condoms on every street corner,” Gordon said.

Meanwhile, legislation has been introduced in the State Legislature that would make free tampons and pads available in at least half of all school bathrooms in public school districts where at least 40% of the student population comes from households whose income is below the federal poverty line.