Jul 13, 2021

In Good Faith: Pushing Back Against Period Poverty

In my June In Good Faith column, I write about menstruation. Yes, you read that correctly. 

Pushing Back Against Period Poverty 

Growing up, my lone sibling was a brother. As a parent, I have two sons. Needless to say, menstruation has never been a big topic of dinner table conversation. But that’s changed in recent weeks. I’ve been talking about menstruation not only at the dinner table but at church on Sunday mornings and even with virtual strangers.

That’s because we have a new ministry at our parish that seeks to address period poverty. Free.

(pronounced ‘free period’) provides free menstruation products to those in need on the South Shore, but the need transcends local geography.

During the pandemic, one of my parishioners became aware of the lack of available products when she and her daughter went to drop off supplies at a local non-profit collection site. Kenzie Blackwell noticed mountains of deodorant and toothpaste but very few menstruation supplies. This got her thinking about the need on a broader level, led her to research the issue, and Free. was born soon after. 

What’s shocking to so many, and was certainly news to me, is that these products are not covered by benefits. And this gap presents yet another barrier to equality in education and employment as people are forced to miss school or work simply because they don’t have the means to address a basic biological function. 

Period poverty, which is defined as, “inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools,” has been with us for generations. Unfortunately, it has traditionally been shrouded in shame — which is why Kenzie refers to period poverty as a hidden need. Many prefer to avoid the topic and lose opportunities rather than ask for help. In addition, few organizations offer the needed supplies, in some cases because they are unaware of the need and in others because it’s not deemed a subject for polite company.

At root, I think of this as a theological issue, which is why I’m proud our church has embraced this cause. As people of faith, we vow to respect the dignity of every human being and this is, ultimately, an issue of respect and dignity. The mission of Free. is to ensure that a basic biological function, one instituted by God in the creation of humanity, doesn’t act as a barrier to living a full and fruitful life. 

So in addition to collecting products for distribution to partner agencies, we also hope to raise awareness nationally and encourage other faith-based organizations and non-profits to take up the mantle of this long-hidden issue of equity that directly impacts so many. If you’re interested in starting a Free. chapter in your own context, would like more information, or would be willing to make a donation, please don’t hesitate to be in touch. For more information, visit the Free. Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Free.Period.Ministry. 

As a society, we can and must do better. And the first step is to normalize conversations around period poverty. Which is why I will continue to talk about menstruation and the ripple effects it has on people in need. Even if that means making the occasional conversation partner a bit uncomfortable in the process. 

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