Brown Bag Raises Awareness on Period Poverty

The Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education’s (COVE’s) Public Health Initiative sponsored a Brown Bag in the ALANA Cultural Center to discuss the global, local and campus-wide effort to combat Period Poverty on Thursday, November 1.

Though at the beginning of the discussion, many in attendance concurred that it is awkward and taboo to publicly discuss one’s period, the issue is one that has been addressed on Colgate’s campus.

Seniors Cate Barber, Laia Alonso and junior Hannah Adkins are working to fight the stigma of the period, specifically through a movement against period poverty.

According to the Guardian, period poverty is defined as “when women and girls struggle to pay for basic menstrual products on a monthly basis, with significant impact on their hygiene, health and wellbeing.”

Professor Van Wynsberghe, an Assistant Professor of Biology, led students in an interactive discussion about the history and biology of a period.

Throughout history, Van Wynsberghe said, menstruation has been frequently associated with “mystery or magic.” Men, who did not get a period, were responsible for recording history, so little documentation about menstruation can be found today. The tampon dates back to 1929, despite the fact that 70 percent of people who get periods use them today, Van Wynsberghe said. Papyrus was supposedly used in ancient Egypt while cloth and “Hoosier” sanitary belts were used in the late 1800s to absorb menstrual blood.

During the average period, which lasts between four and six days, the body only loses between 30 and 75 ml of fluid. Without the means to catch and hide one’s period, a great deal of stress comes with “the time of the month.”

According to Always, a hygiene product company that recently launched an #EndPeriodPoverty global campaign, one in five girls has missed school due to a lack of period protection. At Colgate, this statistic may apply to skipping important lectures, leaving three-hour labs early or not engaging in physical activity.

For those below the poverty line, the cost of a period is particularly steep. According to Van Wynsberghe, studies have shown that people spend approximately 1,800 dollars on tampons over their lifetime, and upwards of 5,000 dollars on their periods if the costs of pain relievers and birth control are included. New York is one of only a few states where people no longer pay taxes on sanitary products.

Barber, Alonso and Adkins have been collaborating with the Dean of the College’s office to bring free menstrual products to Colgate’s campus. They have worked to install free sanitary product dispensers to various restrooms across campus. Complimentary products are unique t only 13 other college campuses across the United States, according to an infographic shown during the Brown Bag.

“I’m glad [that students are] bringing attention to the financial and social burdens associated with periods for people in poverty and increasing accessibility to free…hygiene products on campus,” sophomore Delaney Schiern said.

Dean Ellen Holm, Director of Operations, said she joined the fight to destigmatize the term “feminine hygiene products” on campus and bring light to the issue. She was particularly interested in the initiative because “part and parcel of [her] identity is as a mom…of a teenage daughter,” she said to the audience.

“I think about equity frequently as part of my work and this project was an excellent opportunity to mitigate the potential impact of menstruation on education and opportunity for Colgate students,” she said. “Even for those whom the cost of products isn’t prohibitive,easy access to products means that students can keep working on projects or papers, show up on time to exams and interviews (with the usual amount of stress), even when their period comes unexpectedly. This impacts not only those that that use the products directly, but their study and lab partners as well.”

Holm is currently working with her colleagues to address Colgate’s ability to reallocate funds appropriately to cover the costs of free menstrual products for students.

“In the long-run the tampons and pads will be included in the budget lines for bathroom supplies, similar to toilet paper and soap,” she said.

As of this fall, free sanitary product dispensers can be found in 14 new locations around campus.

Contact Julia Klein at [email protected].