The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This series is made possible by a grant from SayItForward.org in support of teen journalists and the series editor, Katina Paron.
Six young activists fighting to ensure menstrual equality and the lessons they’ve learned
One in five girls miss school in the US.. during her menstrual cycle. It doesn’t help that tampons are taxed as luxuries in 32 states, making essential period products much harder to afford.
These six young period activists take on school administrators and state legislators in their fight for menstrual equality. Here are some lessons they’ve learned in the field.
1. Be Collaborative.
After Saranna Zhang learned that many young menstruators lack access to period products, an experience known as period poverty, she started a local chapter of the national program Period at her Houston high school. Her group gathered enough period packs for area shelters so that 300 girls and women could have menstrual products for a full cycle.
At the same time she put together the Texas for Menstrual Equity Coalition to meet with lawmakers to end the Texas Tampon Tax. Through the coalition, two separate bills have been drafted in favor of eliminating the tax, both of which will be submitted next legislative season. Throughout this experience, Zhang learned that activism has no room for your own ego, and that collaboration is key.
“It’s about finding that balance between you being an activist and wanting to do things in the menstrual justice space,” Zhang said, “while also allowing other people to grow.” She encourages others to let “everybody do this as a collaborative rather than focusing on how your activism makes you personally shine above others.”
2. Be the Change You Want to See.
A Facebook video on lack of accessibility motivated Ainsley Feeney to create Period Arlington, a school club that used bake sale profits to raise $350 for pads and tampons for the Shelby Country Crime Victims and Rape Crisis Center. From there she organized the National Period Day Rally in Tennessee to raise awareness of struggles surrounding menstruation. Feeney’s activism has been powered by her own passion, as well as the occasional leap of faith.
“There’s a stigma that young people can’t make change because they can’t vote. And I mean, obviously, we’ve seen time and time again that that’s incorrect,” Feeney said. “If you’re passionate about something and you want to make a change, you’ve just got to go for it. You find an organization and you plug yourself in. And if it doesn’t exist, then, yeah, make it. Create it.”
3. Never Give Up.
Not only did Sarah Siddiqui successfully convince school administration to provide free menstrual products in bathrooms at her Clark Summit, Penn. school but she lobbies for House Bill 1708.
Known as Lilly’s Bill—after Lilly Minor, who advocated for free period products in her own high school—the proposal pushes for free menstrual products in Pennsylvania schools.
Until the law passes on a state level, Siddiqui uses a one-on-on approach to make sure girls get what they need. In 2019 during an after school meeting, Siddiqui made sure all attendees received free diva cups. Perseverance is her advice for others.
“Never give up. I know it’s hard. I know we’ve been lobbying for House Bill 1708 for a long time,” Siddiqui said, referring to the year her and her fellow activists have advocated for the bill. “But, you know, unfortunately, change doesn’t happen overnight.”
4. Normalize Periods.
In a pinch Annabelle Jin substitutes a wad of toilet paper when she’s been caught unprepared for her period.
When she learned that this makeshift approach is the norm for many teens, she entered the world of period activism. Emphasizing service, Jin has collected around 10,000 period products from various drives, that were then donated to shelters across the state.
As the lead organizer for New Jersey’s National Period Day Rally, Jin approach to activism involves normalizing the conversation around periods. This rally focused on intersectionality in the menstrual space, as well as periods in prisons and periods in the LGBTQ+ community–two of the communities underrepresented in the period conversation.
By shying away from these conversations, menstruation (which affects 26 percent of the world’s population) becomes stigmatized and health issues ignored. Jin holds product packing parties with menstruators and non menstruators alike. In order for menstruation to be truly normalized, men have to see it as an ordinary occurrence.
“These kinds of volunteering opportunities, like relating periods to something like normal, and also like the service activity, is really helpful for reducing that stigma among teenage guys,” Jin said.
5. Face the Nonsecular Stigma.
Natalya Escobar’s period activism conflicts with her Catholic school’s values. Despite the backlash from her administration, she’s created a period club, run a period product drive, and fought for her classmates’ accessibility to products.
After reassuring the administration that she wasn’t attempting to ignite a rebellion, they became more receptive of her ideas. When constantly battling the status quo, Escobar advises her fellow activists to remind themselves why they participate in the movement.
“Be fully sure in yourself, because what you are doing is good. Just because it might be a little uncomfortable and embarrassing does not mean it’s wrong or bad,” Escobar said. “If it’s something you truly care about, make it happen.”
Now the administration is telling her what a good idea accessible period products are.
6. Learn to Listen
The low-income community Chloe Bullock lives in Hood River, Oregon has an overwhelming need for period products. To support her peers, she succeeded in getting free period products in school bathrooms.
Her future plans include working on an Oregon bill that will require free period products in all state schools, as well as reaching out to middle schoolers to provide products and better menstrual education, through open, honest conversation.
Her biggest battle, however, has been securing the funds necessary for products and their dispensers.
“People will ask us where they should get the money and we always say, ‘they are just as necessary as toilet paper, so treat them like a basic bathroom product and expand that budget,’” Bullock said.
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