Black Female HBCU Leaders Are Fighting To End 'Period Poverty'
Black women at their local HBCUs are working to put an end to period poverty on their campuses and more.
March 07, 2022 at 9:55 pm
“Period poverty” leads to menstruators being unable to access the necessary education, products, and resources to menstruate safely in the world around them.
In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda is working to stop period poverty and these reproductive injustices. The organization has a mission “focused on lifting the voices of Black women leaders at the national and regional levels in our fight to secure Reproductive Justice for all women, femmes, and girls.” Black women at their local HBCUs are working through this organization and even creating their own to spotlight period poverty on their campuses and beyond.
A study done by George Mason University in February 2021 found that “1 in 10 college students experienced chronic period poverty and 14% of college students ran into challenges within the last year.” Nevertheless, numerous people do not know what period poverty is and how it affects the community.
“From my knowledge that I’ve learned from my fellowship and my own research, period poverty is…not having access to menstrual products…choosing whether or not you’re going to get your next meal or going to get feminine care products, and not being able to necessarily afford menstrual products because they’re either overpriced or not affordable,” Kalaya Sibley, a Dillard University fellow for In Our Own Voice, said.
Period poverty is an issue that affects numerous people across the country. However, some individuals have never heard the term “period poverty” in the first place.
“To me personally, period poverty refers to the lack of access to not only menstrual products but also waste management. I also would include the lack of access to clean, safe water. If you don’t have those products that you need, but if we also don’t have clean running water to cleanse yourself and wash yourself. I feel like that’s also living in period poverty as well if you’re not able to manage your menstrual cycle,” Asia Brown, a Spelman College fellow for In Our Own Voice, said.
The same George Mason University study also found that “nineteen percent of Black and 24.5% of Brown menstruating bodies said they experienced period poverty in the last year.” For Sibley, she had experiences of period poverty before she made it to Dillard’s campus.
“Growing up in high school, there were no options for menstrual products,” Sibley said. “Even when we would go to the nurse, there were no options for menstrual products, even in high school. I went to a predominantly Black and Latino school. I grew up in a predominantly Black and Latino community. It was unfortunate to experience those adversities. Luckily, I had someone like my mom at home, who was able to provide me with those products and those things that I needed. But there were some times where I’ll be honest; we kind of had to choose between the two.”
“When I got on campus, I had a friend who needed menstrual care products,” Sibley continued. We went to our nurse’s office, and we were told that they don’t have any…We were taken aback by that because not only did I have my own personal experience, but now my friend is having this personal experience. I didn’t even know that I was a victim of it until the language became introduced to me. That’s when I said, ‘Okay, what can we do to solve this? What can I do as a fellow to solve this?'”
This passion for providing menstruators with the resources they need to find peace and community regarding menstruating and their reproductive rights led Sibley, Brown, and others to join In Our Own Voice and even create their own organizations.
“I felt like the overall menstrual equity movement is very whitewashed at times,” Brown said. “I felt like there weren’t a lot of Black voices or experiences at the forefront. Definitely not Black experiences from the south. I’m from Mississippi. I just felt like I wanted to do more, and I wanted to really create something that would uplift the experiences of Black menstruating folks in my home state of Mississippi specifically. My younger sister and I decided to create our own project in our hometown. I’m from a town called Vicksburg, a pretty small town. We started a project there called 601 For Period Equity.”
“Since then, we’ve been able to donate menstrual products to local schools, not only in Vicksburg but also in Jackson, Mississippi,” Brown continued. “We’ve been able to donate products to schools, health clinics, and women’s shelters in those areas. We’ve been able to engage with volunteers, have menstrual product giveaways and just really engage with the community there about menstruation. We hope in the future to do more about breaking down that period stigma that I personally feel like exists in the Black community.”
Despite the positive steps taken to spread awareness and menstrual products across the country, the pandemic has added to the spread of period poverty. A study published in June 2021 stated that over half of the 1,262 participants surveyed “said they had less money to buy menstrual products due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” HBCU campuses have work that still needs to be done as the world continues to fight against the pandemic, and period poverty is becoming a more significant issue.
“Creating safe spaces for all menstruators is paramount. Menstrual products need to be available in all bathrooms. They need to be free, and students need to have access to a variety of products. It is not the job of those who are oppressed by the system to fix it. Students come to college to earn an education; they should not have to fight their institution to have their basic needs met,” Amber Wynne, a Hampton University fellow for In Our Own Voice, said.
There is still work to be done regarding having the resources such as tampons and testing available and making sure they are easily accessible to all communities.
“I think the work that still needs to be done is access. There is no open access to certain things such as menstrual products, but as well as emergency contraceptives, access to pregnancy tests, or to STD and HIV testing…I think one of the things that the institutions can do better about is having an open conversation,” Sibley said. “I think that by having those conversations and making it something that’s not necessarily taboo is a start. Making people, students and young girls aware of the things that they suffer from, and on top of that, providing them with the resources that they deserve and need.”
There are simple steps that students can take to fight back against period poverty and the reproductive injustices on their campuses. From joining a local organization to simply ensuring access to products for those who need it most, people can come together to make sure all menstruators can live comfortably.
“A great first step is getting a better understanding of the needs of your campus. When I founded The Period Project at Hampton, I created a survey to get a better understanding of my campus climate by examining transportation issues, product insecurities, and even simply asking what products did students want. From this survey, I was better equipped because I had direct input from my community rather than assuming what the needs were,” Wynne said.
“I would say simple steps such as joining an organization such as In Our Own Voice. I do have to give it up to them because they were apart from my university. They were the ones who provided me with the education and the knowledge to even know these things. I would definitely say joining organizations that support your cause or support your reproductive justice initiatives, fight or passion,” Sibley said. “I would also say start your own organization at your institution.”
“I think starting there and joining with other women and educating other women around you of the issues that not only yourself, but they may face as well. It wasn’t until I was made aware by someone else that this is what I’m a victim of. I think spreading that knowledge is one of the ways to get involved,” Sibley continued.
Period poverty is an issue that is affecting the United States and beyond. However, In Our Own Voice and organizations alike ensure that the necessary resources and knowledge are available for all those who need them.