Kathleen Keefer is the Vice Moderator of Presbyterian Women in the Presbyterian Church (USA)
Remembering the bleeding woman who Jesus cured, now, more than 2000 years later, people who menstruate continue to be shamed and even set apart because of a natural biological function of their bodies. We often think of young people growing up in Africa who are unable to go to school because they do not have hygiene products, but one in four menstruating people in the US cannot go to school or to work because they lack sanitary products or money to buy them. One-third of people of color with periods living in poverty are more likely to find themselves without the necessary products to go to school or work or even outside their homes. They are also more likely to use products far longer than recommended or use items such as paper towels or newspapers. Infections often result, some severe, (toxic shock syndrome is one) leading to hysterectomy or even death.
Imagine being a person, living in poverty, going to work at a job that pays minimum wage, and your period starts. You have no money until the next time you are paid, and you have no product to use to get you through until pay day. Do you use something other than sanitary products, or do you beg for money to get you through until payday? You go to the local Presbyterian Church (USA) and ask for money – not for gas for your car, not for milk or diapers for the children but for sanitary product. Most would feel shame in doing this – for a normal biological function. “The lack of access to menstrual products can also make people feel humiliated and powerless, resulting in stigmatization and exclusion.”*
Period injustice is Violence Against Women and Girls!
What can you do?
Donate, donate, donate. When you give to your local shelter or food pantry, don’t forget to include hygiene products. Buy a box of pads or tampons to put in with your Mac n Cheese and peanut butter.
If your church has a vending machine selling products, have the session remove it and then have the women of the church take this on as a mission, keeping the baskets full for people to use. Sure, someone might come in and take all the product, fill it up again.
Find out if hygiene products are available at all public schools without cost and without request. Should a young person go to the nurse’s office to ask for product, it should be available, without comment.
Visit public spaces in your community. The library, courthouse, state, local government offices, health departments. Make sure they are offering free products in the restrooms. If they don’t, write to the “powers that be” and ask them to consider it.
And PRAY… Holy Creator, you made us all in your image, but some still find the need to shame and degrade people who menstruate. We are so tired of not being respected and understood for who you created us to be. Give us the strength and courage to change the hearts of others. Amen.
*“The Unequal Price of Periods: Menstrual Equity in the United States", ACLU, 2019