A local organization fighting poverty in times of poverty has donated more than 10,000 menstrual products since March, a need experts say is often overlooked but widely felt.
Menstrual poverty is a lack of access to menstrual products, which Period OKC advocate Jen Green says can lead to missed days of school or work, and contributes to anxiety and depression.
As public assistance programs such as SNAP, TANF and WIC do not provide these commodities, it has always been difficult for homeless or poor women to easily access or purchase tampons, pads or cups. menstrual.
Green launched Period OKC, a volunteer-run organization dedicated to providing free menstrual products, earlier this year. She became aware of the poverty of menstruation over the past two years and, personally experiencing the anxiety surrounding menstruation even when one has access to products, felt compelled to act.
“I can’t imagine… if I had nothing, or if I didn’t have access to it, or if I couldn’t get to the store, because I had no transportation,” said Green. “There are a number of things that lie between the people and the product.
Period OKC collects donations – often via an Amazon wishlist, but recently partnered with local businesses to keep donation boxes – and gives them to local homeless shelters, free pantries, schools and other community aid organizations.
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Green said they are also teaming up with the Oklahoma nonprofit Sox of Love to raise donations for their annual Blossom Bundle delivery to schools in the metro OKC area. Blossom packs include tampons and pads in addition to other hygiene products.
Who is most impacted
Those who find themselves in poverty are often the most affected by this problem. In Oklahoma, one in five women and girls between the ages of 12 and 44, the common ages for menstruation, are below the federal poverty line.
One in four American teenage girls missed school due to lack of access to menstrual products, according to 2019 Alliance for Period Supplies data.
Crystal Raymond, media relations manager for Oklahoma City Public Schools, said several people in the district recognized this as a problem, including the wife of a principal at US Grant High School, who began last March to create “period files” to distribute to students.
“The district is grateful to the community partners and nonprofit organizations who have come together to help meet this need in our schools and our community,” Raymond said in an email. “Our nurses and school counselors can either provide the students with health products or put them in touch with one of the groups that can provide them.”
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Homeless people also suffer from a lack of access to menstrual products, as this is often something that is overlooked by people who donate or try to help the homeless.
JoBeth Hamon, city councilor for Ward 6 of the OKC, said she first became aware of menstrual poverty while working at a homeless shelter in Chicago. Volunteers were often asked for menstrual products and rarely had enough to meet needs, she said.
“I started to think, ‘Oh, yeah, that would be difficult and uncomfortable,’” Hamon said. “It’s this incredibly necessary expense, but also … really expensive if you don’t have a lot of income.”
After returning to Oklahoma and working at a nonprofit mental health organization, Hamon began keeping tampons and pads at his office to give to clients.
“Just this thing, even though we couldn’t fix everything right away… was really, really helpful,” she said.
During his tenure on the OKC City Council, Hamon participated in the Period Day rally and declared May 24-30 Period Poverty Awareness Week, together with the OKC Period.
Hamon would like to see more efforts from city council to resolve the issue, including discussions about the availability of menstrual products in bathrooms in city buildings as well as in Oklahoma City public schools.
“It’s this necessary medical item, but we’re treating it like it’s a commodity,” Hamon said.
Sales tax is “an additional burden”
Although a monthly necessity for a quarter of the population – according to UNICEF – menstrual products are taxed in 28 states, also known as the “tampon tax”.
In 2016, attorneys Laura Strausfeld and Jennifer Weiss-Wolf filed a class action lawsuit against New York State that resulted in the removal of the stamp tax. They then founded Period Equity, a legal organization aimed at ending the stamp tax in all states.
Because the tampon tax only affects those who have their period, Period Equity has built its campaign on the argument that this is a form of gender discrimination.
“The tampon tax is an additional burden on an already overworked group in every state,” Strausfeld said. “I have seen so much effort from legislatures (during the pandemic) to try to relieve the economic stress on businesses, on workers. And that these lawmakers haven’t done the easy job of raising the tax on a medical necessity is truly disappointing, and something that really should be rectified as soon as possible. ”
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In Oklahoma, the Period Product Tax brings in about $ 3.7 million, or 0.01% of total state revenue, according to Period Equity calculations. Despite this, there has been little movement toward eliminating the tax in Oklahoma.
House Bill 1321 was introduced in 2017 and if passed it would have created a sales tax exemption for “tampons, panty liners, menstrual cups, sanitary napkins and other similar tangible personal property the primary purpose of which is feminine hygiene related to menstruation. cycle. ”The bill went to a subcommittee, but nothing came of it.
For Green, ending the stigma surrounding menstruation is another important step in ensuring everyone has access to menstrual products when they need them. From a young age, girls are often told that their period is something to hide from others and that it is taboo to bring up in conversation.
“You learn to tuck the tampon up your sleeve when you go to the bathroom because you don’t want anyone to see it,” Green said. “If you had to get a toothbrush or a bar of soap, it wouldn’t be like that. There’s a stigma attached to it that it’s embarrassing.”
In addition to her work with Period OKC, Green challenged herself to be more open to talking about her period, visibly wearing tampons and pads in her workplace, and even making sure that she has products with it to offer to all who beg.
Product donations for the OKC period are accepted at the following local businesses:
- Vanessa House Brewery, 118 NW 8
- Salon Sustain, 1624, boul.
- Vito’s Ristorante, 7628 N May Ave.
- Sunnyside Diner, 9148 N MacArthur Blvd.
- Sunnyside Diner, 7 E 2nd St. in Edmond
- Burger Joint S&B, 5929 N May Ave.
- Dear common, 3 NW 9