#TimesUp on Period Stigma, Too

Just a week into the new year, the women of America have spoken: #TimesUp on sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. Since the star-studded campaign was announced on New Year’s Day, activists from all walks of life have raised not only their voices, but also raised big-time dollars to back it up. To date, an impressive $15 million has been amassed to launch an A-List team of lawyers, the Legal Network for Gender Equity.

The fight for women’s economic justice doesn’t begin or end at the eradication of sexual harassment in the workplace and in schools—but it’s a strong place to start. As Hollywood opens the red carpet to social change—and celebrities and others open their wallets to the movement—here’s another hashtag to add to the mix: #MenstruationMatters.

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Simply stated, menstrual equity is the argument that the inability to afford or manage menstruation should not hold anyone back from full societal participation. It’s a cause that dovetails with #TimesUp and parallel pushes for gender equity and fairness—and it’s a political fight being waged around the globe. (One click to the #periodpoverty hashtag by the Brits will prove it.)

Back in 2015, global health advocate Lisa Schechtman posed a question I’ve spent years ruminating on: “If we get menstrual hygiene right, what else will have changed in the process?” The answer? Plenty—including advancing economic equity, accelerating the push for women’s agency (and sense of belonging) in their own bodies, ensuring educational and employment opportunities and smashing the sexist cycle of poverty. (Thank you for the smashing sweater, Connie Britton!) And that’s only the beginning.

Long story short: We cannot achieve gender equity with menstrual equity. Luckily, the menstrual equity movement in the U.S. has seen rapid success in a short time, with surprisingly robust bipartisan support and interest. Just last week, new laws went into effect in California and Illinois requiring the provision of free menstrual products in public school restrooms. The push to eliminate sales tax on menstrual products (aka the “tampon tax”) has captured headlines and captivated lawmakers on both sides of the aisle—the latest being Governor Rick Scott of Florida, the most recent state to scrap the tax. And last summer, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a guidance requiring that tampons and pads be freely provided in all federal prisons. (Indeed, the very same DOJ headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Republicans, take note.)

In an April 2017 essay, Chelsea Clinton weighed in on the importance of considering the impact of periods in a holistic philanthropic agenda: “When was the last time you heard menstruation talked about in a conversation about economic development,” she asked. “Or economic justice? In a conversation about health care in the developing world or health care for refugees? Or in a conversation about education here in the U.S.? We need to support menstruating girls and women of all ages to erase the stigma and the access barriers that too often go hand-in-hand with ‘that time of the month.’” As we contemplate the kinds of legal interventions that foster the full engagement and empowerment of women and girls, we must make the case that our policymaking include menstruation.

Currently, there is no domestic effort among foundations to support programs or research that address menstrual access in the United States. Inside Philanthropy reports that “even the most pragmatic global health and development experts can get a little bit uncomfortable whenever the conversation turns to periods.”

Seriously? It’s 2018, folks. Time is up on sexism—and period stigma. Any philanthropic initiative focused on the needs and lives of women and girls must also explicitly commit to incorporating and embedding core principles of menstrual access and health—into the grants its awards, the research it makes possible, the solutions it forges.

Tony Award–winning playwright and activist Eve Ensler—author of The Vagina Monologues and creator of V-Day, the global activist movement to stop violence against women and girls—once said that “money doesn’t make you special, it makes you lucky.” She urged us to “be generous, be crazy, be outrageous.”

#TimesUp is a call to action is for all of us to demand better by women and girls. Let’s start by taking a stand for menstrual equity with every dollar we donate.

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf is a lawyer, fierce advocate for and frequent writer on issues of gender, feminism and politics in America. Dubbed the “architect of the U.S. campaign to squash the tampon tax” by Newsweek, she is the author of Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity, which was lauded by Gloria Steinem as “the beginning of liberation for us all,” and is a contributor to the forthcoming Young Adult book Period.: Twelve Voices Tell the Bloody Truth.

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