The taboo surrounding menstruation is a constant issue occurring around the world.
According to an article from the South China Morning Post, a belief persists on the island of Sumba in eastern Indonesia that menstruation causes sexually transmitted diseases. A report by international NGO WaterAid showed in 2017 that 88 percent of women in India were making their own sanitary pads because they could not afford the ones provided by stores. In the United States, millions are suffering from period poverty, defined as inadequate access to necessary menstrual hygiene products.
The issues that menstruation stigma presents are not only happening internationally and nationally – they are happening in our own backyard.
Local Albany resident Lena Spencer and her daughter, Ava, discovered this fact when female students of West Albany High School said that they had been missing school during their periods due to lack of access to proper menstruation products. Some resorted to using cardboard in place of tampons; others had to ration out sanitary pads, sometimes wearing one for a whole day (recommended use is 3 to 4 hours).
Upon hearing the experiences of these students, Spencer and her daughter knew that something had to be done – and thus, The Period Project was born.
The mission of The Period Project, according to Spencer, is “to help underprivileged or financially challenged menstruating girls overcome period poverty so that it’s not a barrier to their education.”
With the help of West Albany High School’s health teacher, Jennifer Bordheimer, Spencer and Ava helped facilitate a group of local women who began putting together baskets of free menstrual hygiene products and placing them in school bathrooms. Though they have begun working in conjunction with West Albany’s school board, the bulk of the project is executed by local moms who have witnessed the great need for menstrual hygiene products among students. The Albany Public Schools Foundation is now working on plans to cover period products for Albany schools next year.
The Project has reached the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation, which is now taking donations for students in need.
Just as menstruation and menstrual hygiene are a taboo in our society, so are the barriers these natural bodily functions present. According to a study conducted by Harris Insights & Analytics, of 1,000 teens aged 13 to 19, 1 in 5 of those surveyed could not afford menstrual hygiene products. The study also displayed that two-thirds of respondents experience stress because of their inability to access period products; 61 percent have worn tampons for over the recommended four hours; 25 percent missed class because they didn’t have access to tampons or pads; and 83 percent think that the lack of access to such products is not nearly discussed enough.
Because these topics are stigmatized in our society, those who experience period poverty are easily overlooked or ignored. The Period Project seeks to not only provide menstruating girls with necessary hygiene products, but also to break the taboo that surrounds periods.
“I don’t want girls to ever feel ashamed of their bodies or financially stressed because of their bodies,” says Spencer.
Albany, Corvallis, and surrounding areas are not exempt to period poverty and the subsequent problems it causes for our area.
“There are kids in our community and they are struggling,” Spencer asserts.
The Period Project, though it is young and not an “official” organization, is a testimony of what can happen when you see something wrong within your community, make a decision to change it, and take action.
Spencer says, “If you have the ability to help others, you should … It’s all of our responsibility to make our community better.”
Though school is not in session, The Period Project is still working to put together bundles for local menstruating citizens to utilize. Spencer also encourages other people to start their own chapters of The Period Project to help end period poverty and stigma in their local areas.
Financial contributions can be made to the Albany Schools Foundation and the Corvallis Schools Foundation, marked as for The Period Project. For menstrual hygiene product contributions, contact Lena Spencer via her Facebook page.
By Cara Nixon