Period Poverty Project aims to dispel myths, promote menstrual equity
The teenager-led initiative the Period Poverty Project is making an impact locally with its goal of addressing the lack of access to menstrual products for women in need and debunking the stigma surrounding menstruation.
Andrea Rix, a Carmel Valley resident and rising senior at The Bishop’s School, co-founded the nonprofit with her best friend Yasi Henderson when they were sophomores in 2019.
To date, the Period Poverty Project has donated over 42,000 menstrual products to homeless and underserved communities, led school and city-wide drives for products and even started a podcast called “That’s On Period!” to talk about all things period-related and help make periods a normal topic of conversation.
As advocates for menstrual equity, the young women are working to make a difference by raising awareness and stoking a conversation. Their motto: “It’s not awkward unless you make it awkward.”
“People could go years without considering period poverty and the stress related to it. We want to make it something that people think about and talk about,” said Andrea.
Andrea is most proud of the project that the nonprofit undertook at the end of the school year. Through a school-wide drive, they collected over 13,000 menstrual products and held a packing party with volunteers putting together individual period packs, each one containing enough products to cover one cycle.
They originally planned to donate the packs to a local homeless shelter but they then heard of the conditions at the San Diego Convention Center, where over 1,500 migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador were being housed as they await decisions on their immigration status. The majority of them were young girls.
“We heard that there was a very desperate need for period products, the girls did not have the products that they needed,” Andrea said.
Andrea and Yasi wanted to do everything they could to help the migrants in their vulnerable conditions and all of the packs were donated to the convention center.
Andrea is no stranger to community service, having been a tutor at Casa de Amistad and, as a violinist, she participates in a music therapy program for youth with disabilities.
She was inspired to take on this issue after reading the book “Period Power” by Nadya Okamoto, the 24-year-old founder of Period, an organization she started to end period poverty and reduce stigma when she was just 16. Yasi shared the book with her BFF and Andrea was stunned by the things she learned.
“The problem is everywhere….I couldn’t believe I’d never heard about it before,” Andrea said of what she learned about period poverty and how myths and stigmas affect the health, education and wellbeing of women around the world. “The problem is here too. Low- income students can’t afford products and that is a big barrier to young girls’ access to education.”
One recent study showed that one in five teenagers in the United States have missed school because they didn’t have access to menstrual products during their period.
Once Yasi and Andrea started the club at Bishop’s, it quickly grew in membership, including both female and male members. Their first product drive in January 2020 resulted in the donation of over 500 period packs to Rachel’s Women’s Center in downtown San Diego.
In November, they partnered with Covers for Lives and other student groups across San Diego on a city-wide menstrual product drive for San Diego Unified School District students. Forty percent of the students in the district fall below the poverty line, and the district was struggling to provide students with the menstrual products they need. Altogether, the drive collected over 20,000 period products.
Although the primary focus of PPP is to supply women with the products they need for their periods, it has also made an impact on how their school community approaches the topic of periods, Yasi said.
“Watching students from all grades, both girls and boys, bringing in period products for drives and helping us assemble the period packs is proof to our community that we have already started to address the stigma,” said Yasi. “It’s important for people to realize that as uncomfortable as many make the topic seem, it’s plenty more uncomfortable and unhealthy to not have the necessary products for a period.”
“A period should be a normal thing to talk about,” Andrea said.
Due to the taboo that exists around periods, Andrea said no one is really talking about the topic in the legislature either. As advocates, in the coming year they hope to get more involved making California lawmakers aware, using their voice to amplify the needs of women in vulnerable communities, especially young women in school.
“If no one is talking about the problem, nothing gets changed,” Andrea said.
PPP is also hopes to make connections with the County of San Diego Department of Public Health. Andrea and Yasi were encouraged by the county’s recently launched Free4ME program: in May, the county installed 57 free menstrual product dispensers in 23 county-owned facilities across the region including libraries, family resource centers and community centers.
Andrea and Yasi are both appreciative of how supportive and accepting members and donors have been and they hope to continue to inspire others to become active in the menstrual movement.
Already, the mission of the Period Poverty Project has now grown beyond Bishop’s. Four other student-led branches have been created across San Diego including branches at Canyon Crest Academy, Torrey Pines High School, Santa Fe Christian Schools and San Marcos High School.
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