Heidi Stevens: Work to end period poverty now

By Heidi Stevens - Chicago Tribune

Some day, across this great land, we will treat tampons and sanitary pads the way we do toilet paper.

Cashiers won’t feel the need to obscure them in double or triple bags to save the purchaser certain humiliation. Public bathrooms will provide them in every stall, free of cost, understanding that, like toilet paper, they are a necessity. Shoppers of any age or gender will feel perfectly comfortable asking store clerks, “Where can I find the tampons,” because tampons won’t be embarrassing. Even better, shoppers won’t need to ask store clerks where they can find the tampons because stores will all put “tampons and pads” on their aisle signs, rather than “feminine products” (which could be eye shadow) or “hygiene” (which could be dental floss).

We’re getting there.

Illinois passed the Learn With Dignity Act in 2017, requiring all public schools that serve students in grades six through 12, including charter schools, to provide free tampons and pads in the bathrooms. A growing number of states, including Illinois, have stopped taxing tampons and pads as luxury items.

Today will get us even closer.

Activists have declared Saturday National Period Day and planned a series of rallies around the country to raise awareness about period stigma and period poverty — the fact that an estimated 1 in 4 women struggles to afford the items necessary to deal with monthly periods.

Sophie Draluck, a Highland Park High School senior, is helping organize a Chicago rally.

Draluck founded an organization called Cycle Forward, which collects and distributes tampons and pads to girls and women who can’t afford them.

“My local food pantry told me feminine products are one of the most commonly demanded and least supplied items,” Draluck told me last year. “That was a big wake-up call for me. I could be walking around with people, not even knowing this is a problem for them.”

People who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits can’t use them to purchase tampons or pads, so donations are crucial.

“I’m always looking for deals,” Sophie said. “Target is usually the best price. Sometimes CVS will have coupons. My biggest goal is finding a contact at a wholesaler to sell us the products at cost.”

Earlier this year, Draluck completed a HERLead fellowship, which trains young women around the world to pursue leadership roles, where she learned about a young woman named Nadya Okamoto. In 2014, Okamoto founded PERIOD, a nonprofit with more than 400 local chapters aimed at eliminating period poverty and stigma through advocacy, education and service. She recently published a book with Simon & Schuster called “Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement.”

Draluck asked her fellowship coordinators to connect her with Okamoto, who, in turn, asked Draluck to head up a Chicago chapter of PERIOD.

“So many people are unaware that menstrual inequality even exists,” Draluck told me last week. “What I hope comes out of the Period Day rally is that we educate the public on how persistent stigmatization of menstruation and how lack of access to menstruation products systematically excludes girls from school and women from society in general around the world. The problem is solvable once we’re all able to get involved.”

Draluck hopes to see a diverse crowd Saturday.

“I don’t think this is an issue that’s bounded by any age or any gender, for that matter,” she said. “Whether you menstruate or struggle to afford menstrual products, this issue affects you because when women don’t have access to these products, they can’t fully participate in their communities, which puts them at distinct disadvantages academically, socially and economically. That calls upon all of us to do our fair share in trying to solve it.”


By Heidi Stevens

Chicago Tribune

Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Reach her at hstevens@tribune.com or on Twitter @heidistevens13.

Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Reach her at hstevens@tribune.com or on Twitter @heidistevens13.

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