Student Corner: Making menstrual products accessible to all

For many women, purchasing products for that “time of the month” is a part of their usual errands, but it’s not as easy for women living in poverty across the United States and across the world. Baylor students have joined the effort to make menstrual products accessible for all.

When Nadya Okamoto’s family lost their home when she was 16, she became aware of the struggles that homeless women face during their menstrual cycle. In 2014, she and her high school classmate Vincent Forand co-founded PERIOD, a youth nonprofit that distributes menstrual products globally. The organization now has chapters around the world, and students at Baylor College of Medicine have partnered with undergraduates at Rice University to start the first chapter in Texas.

Kristin Pascoe, a third-year medical student at Baylor College of Medicine, serves as co-president of the chapter along with Cathy Wu at Rice. The two of them and the rest of their executive board helped found their chapter, which has organized in-kind donation drives to collect pads and tampons and has helped distribute them to the Houston Area Women’s Center. They organize packing parties, where they assemble period packages that have enough products to last one full cycle.

Pascoe said that when homeless women are not able to purchase menstrual hygiene products, they resort to unhygienic methods such as socks, toilet paper and even rags, which all increase the risk of infection. In addition, there is a sales tax on period products in 37 U.S. states and some food stamp programs do not cover these products, making it even more financially burdensome for many women.

After Hurricane Harvey, Pascoe and other chapter members saw that many shelters continuously asked for these products, and they set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds. They were able to raise about $1,000 and allocate about 6,000 menstrual products to shelters across the city of Houston.

In November 2017, the Baylor-Rice chapter was named Fundraiser of the Year at the organization’s national conference, PERIOD CON. Lunapads, a company that makes reusable pads and period underwear, was one of the sponsors of the event and awarded the chapter with products that they can use in future period packs.

However, the organization doesn’t stop at creating period packs. They host events that encourage public conversations about periods and write to state legislatures about the period tax, efforts in which the local chapter hopes to take part in going forward, Pascoe said.

Stay tuned for more information about the organization’s events this spring, including a donation drive on the Baylor and Rice campuses in February.

-By Dipali Pathak