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.
After hearing about her mother’s lack of access to menstrual pads growing up in Ghana, Kayla Boateng encouraged her school’s leadership club, Girls Need Love, to start a period product drive at John R. Lewis High School in Springfield, Va.
“Products that I would consider easily accessible are considered a luxury to others,” said Boateng, 15. Her drive collected nearly 2,000 menstrual products for a women’s shelter in northern Virginia.
Boateng and Girls Need Love is just one example of the menstrual activism teenagers are leading across the country.
One in four women and people who menstruate in the United States face period poverty, or the inability to purchase menstrual products due to a lack of income or accessibility, according to the Alliance for Period Supplies. The disparity is caused in part by the tampon tax, a sales tax imposed on feminine hygiene products. With menstrual products treated as a luxury item, the average woman spends close to $17,000 on period products in their lifetime.
In 2015, efforts toward expanding menstrual product accessibility and awareness began nationwide, with teenagers organizing national rallies and bringing the issue to their communities. Since then, about 24 states have gone tax-free, according to Period Law.
Teen-led groups and organizations around the country are demonstrating the impact local period product drives have on curbing period poverty, ending period stigma, and the value of securing resources on a community and legislative level.
Mississippi sisters Asia and Laila Brown use their organization, 601 for Period Equity, to elevate menstrual activism and reproductive justice in Black and marginalized communities.
“I feel like there’s so little education that we need people who are going through it to tell their peers ‘Hey, this is a normal thing,’” said Laila, 17, on the stigma found within her majority Black community.
Involving the youth perspective was key to the nonprofit PERIOD. Its youth advisory council helps bring menstrual products to those affected by period poverty and break period stigma.
“I personally had issues with my period health and I realized that the period stigma made it really hard for me to reach out for help,” said Annabelle Jin, 19, on her motivations to join PERIOD.’s Youth Advisory Board.“That experience is what drove me to break down period stigma for other people.”
Legislation is a long term focus for Jin and other young activists deeply involved in menstrual activism. “As important as donating period products is, it’s not enough. It’s more of a Band-Aid solution,” said Jin.
Two policy initiatives have been introduced in Congress—the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act (S. 1524, known as the Dignity Act) and the Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2021 (H.R. 3614)—but haven’t garnered much traction yet.
Despite pushback from some state legislatures, 15 states expanded menstrual product accessibility schools and prisons as of 2022. In February, Gov. John Carney (D) of Delaware signed a bill to provide menstrual products to girls in juvenile correctional facilities.
The movement for menstrual equity evolves as more girls and women demand equal access, according to Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, founder of the nonprofit group Period Equity. Momentum for menstrual activism continues to build, especially among teenagers.
“It’s pretty extraordinary,” said Weiss-Wolf. “It’s a policy path that has kind of been blazed really quickly.”