Michela Bedard hears one consistent story in her work: those living in poverty need to decide what essential goods to buy each month, and menstrual products generally don’t make the cut because of priorities like food, heat, and electricity. The issue, she said, becomes an “invisible crisis” for many, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
“These products should be provided in public places the same way we provide toilet paper,” Bedard said. “We know how to do this. We provide toilet paper in schools, libraries, community centers, and prisons, and we need to start doing it with menstrual products. For those who need them, they really need them.”
Bedard is the executive director at PERIOD. in Portland, Oregon. The mission of the nonprofit, founded in 2014 by two high school students, is to “eradicate period poverty and stigma through service, education, and advocacy.” Period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products, proper menstrual hygiene education, or clean washing facilities.
PERIOD. has nearly 400 chapters worldwide and has addressed more than five million menstrual cycles with tens of millions of products in nine years. The organization began a partnership in 2020 with EndoFound’s PeriodNow, an initiative launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, to provide feminine hygiene products to girls and women in New York City.
Bedard and several other national advocacy leaders will speak to U.S. congressional members at 2 P.M. EDT on Wednesday, May 17, to support House Resolution 351. The resolution would make the month of May “National Menstrual Health Awareness Month.” The sponsors are U.S. Reps. Grace Meng (D-NY) and Yvette Clarke (D-NY).
“Menstruation is a natural part of human biology and there should be no stigma around discussing menstrual health and wellness,” Rep. Meng said in a statement released earlier this month. “We must normalize the conversation around menstruation, and I am grateful for the support of Rep. Clarke in introducing this resolution which will further our efforts to promote menstrual health and wellness as a health care right and a human right.”
Bedard said each speaker Wednesday will have five minutes. She will emphasize three points during her allotted time.
“First, menstrual stigma is still having disastrous effects on millions of Americans, not only because they aren’t able to access products through nonprofits or public assistance programs, but because the stigma doesn’t enable them to advocate for those products,” Bedard said.
“Second, we need to give a voice to healthcare providers to talk about what they see in their clinics. They’re seeing people with significant uterine disorders and bleeding disorders who don’t know what’s happening to them. We need to discuss this more openly from that healthcare perspective.”
“And third, we need to talk about menstrual health education in this country,” Bedard continued. “Studies show that up to a third of all young people don’t know what a period is by the time they have their first period. That’s terrifying. They’re not being equipped with either the language or the understanding of their bodies, which leaves them more open to disease, danger, violence, and lack of healthcare.”
Dr. Stephanie Hull, president and CEO of Girls Inc., noted in Rep. Meng’s press release that “one in four teens reports missing school because of a lack of period products, and nearly 85% think this issue needs more attention.” Bedard said she also hears many stories in that regard at PERIOD..
“Because we are such a youth-powered organization, we largely interact with young people and often hear about them not having period products at home, so they don’t have any to bring to school,” Bedard said. “Or, even if the products are offered at school, their mothers and sisters at home don’t have them. These stories are much more common than people think.”
While a lot of menstrual products are donated to PERIOD. and other nonprofits for distribution to those in need, Bedard said it’s still not something many people consider giving.
“These products are a requirement to go to school and work, but a lot of people forget about them when making donations because they’re a little embarrassed by it or it’s always been under the cabinet at home, so they don’t think about it,” she said. “It’s also too expensive for small nonprofits to buy all the time, and it’s not required in a lot of public-funded programs.”
Bedard said that despite the challenges, significant progress has been made in service, education, and advocacy.
“I think we are at a moment of sea change,” she said. “We’ve already seen more pieces of menstrual equity legislation introduced this year nationwide than ever before—legislation to mandate products in schools, repeal the tax (Bedard said 22 states still tax period products as luxury goods), mandate it in public buildings, and add allowances to food stamp programs for the purchase of period products. This is a cultural tidal shift. I have no doubt that we can end this in our lifetime if we keep up this pressure.”
That’s what PERIOD. and nearly two dozen other organizations endorsing the resolution will try to do Wednesday.
“It’s time we have a national month of awareness for something that happens to over half of Americans, and I’m hoping this is a marker that shows we’re heading in the right direction,” Bedard said. “We want people to understand that because of this historical stigma and taboo, and because our public systems have not made menstrual products accessible and affordable, here we are with this crisis of period poverty. But it can be solved with education and products.”
Testimonies for the resolution can be watched live by the public. Registration is required. Visit https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_2aVwLRBMTTK_gbsOTeKrlg#/registration.
To read House Resolution 351, visit https://meng.house.gov/sites/evo-subsites/meng.house.gov/files/evo-media-document/national-menstrual-health-awareness-month.pdf.